As we prepare again to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the ironies of the holiday and King’s memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, is that King, himself, was far more modest in how he wished to be remembered.
King’s funeral on April 9, 1968, featured a tape recording of his thoughts about his own epitaph. There was no mention of wanting a national holiday or national monument to commemorate his life. He asked not to be remembered for his exceptional individual achievements and awards such as winning the Nobel Peace Prize and earning a Ph.D.
To the contrary, besides wanting to be remembered as someone who abhorred war as a means of conflict resolution, King asked to be remembered as someone who dedicated his life to serving others.
King’s apparent humility regarding his extraordinary individual accomplishments provides a glimpse at what he felt was really important. In one speech he made a direct connection between greatness and service by stating:
“Everyone can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”