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Every day should be Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Purdue President Martin C. Jischke delivered this speech at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 15, 2001, to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

True Freedom ...

We are gathered here tonight in a nation of unparalleled abundance, at one of the great universities of the world where thought is born; where the frontiers of science are extended; where technology is created to unlock the mysteries of space and the secrets buried deep beneath the earth and within the human mind.

It is wonderful and amazing and inspiring what humankind has accomplished.

And yet, today, we're reminded of the words Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1963:

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish," he said. "But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers (and sisters). Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind, nor serenity of spirit."

Our abundance has not brought us true freedom.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929. He dedicated his life to the fight for freedom with a message of peace and equality and justice and love.

He took that message to the back roads of Mississippi and Alabama. He took that message to the downtowns and neighborhoods of cities like Chicago. He took that message to Washington, D.C., to the door of the White House, to the halls of Congress.

In 1968, his message was cut short.

Today, 33 years after his death, thanks, in part, to his martyrdom, we are closer to his dream. But we have yet to reach the mountaintop of freedom.

"True Freedom" is the theme that has been selected for this Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration tonight.

The words create a sound that strikes at the hearts of all people.

Freedom. We all want true freedom.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January of 1941 -- 60 years ago this month, a short period in the grand sweep of history. War was casting a long and dark shadow across the entire earth.

That day in Washington, Roosevelt spoke of his hopes for a world based on four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

In 1941, those freedoms did not exist for every man and every woman and every child in the world. They did not even exist for every person in United States.

When President Roosevelt spoke of those four freedoms 60 years ago it is estimated there were fewer than 30 African-American students on the entire Purdue University campus.

Those students did not live in the residence halls and fraternities and sororities with other students. They didn't even live in West Lafayette.

They lived with families in the African-American community that existed in Lafayette around the old, segregated Lincoln School.

It is ironic that in our history we built segregated schools and named them for Lincoln.

In 1946, Winifred Parker White moved from a segregated school system and neighborhood in Indianapolis to the Lafayette area, where she and her sister enrolled at Purdue.

This is what she said about the community she found here in 1946: "At that time the City of Lafayette was very segregated. We could not eat anyplace off campus. If we went to the movies, we had to sit upstairs in the balcony. I can remember my sister standing up (in the balcony) one day, looking down at all those whites below and saying, 'Look at all those free people.'"

Freedom ... true freedom was a dream for a youthful Winifred Parker White.

We made much progress in the second half of the 20th century. We came very far, and that is something to celebrate tonight.

But even today, in 2001, we fall short of true freedom for all people.

Our government has passed laws demanding freedom.

But there are people who cannot extend freedom out of their own hearts to those who share their own streets, their own sidewalks, who breathe their own air. To accomplish true freedom for all people in the 21st century, we are going to have to change some hearts.

Dr. King understood this more than 30 years ago.

"Desegregation," he said, "will break down the legal barriers and bring men together physically. But -- something must touch the hearts and souls of men (and women) so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and (because it is) right."

We need to understand individually within each of us, and within society as a whole, what the philosopher Herbert Spencer told us more than a century ago -- that no one is ever free, until everyone is truly free.

At the start of World War II, President Roosevelt told the people of this nation that they were a generation that had a rendezvous with destiny. I believe that the generations living in the United States today have a rendezvous with destiny as well -- a rendezvous with a destiny to fulfill the dreams of generations that came before.

We must succeed.

Dr. King wrote: "If Western civilization does not now respond constructively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all men."

We must make true freedom a reality for all men and all women.

In 1963, Dr. King told of an incident he had witnessed during a peaceful demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the story of an 8-year-old, little girl who walked beside her mother in civil rights march.

A tall policeman wearing a dark blue uniform -- a gun hanging from his belt -- walked up beside her, leaned down low and spoke over her head in mock gruffness: "What do you want?"

It was a frightening moment for a child.

But, Dr. King said that little girl looked up at the policeman without fear in her eyes. And she answered in a steady voice, "F'eedom."

At 8 years old, she couldn't yet even correctly pronounce the word. But she knew exactly what it meant. She understood it in her heart and in her mind and in her soul.

Freedom. True freedom.

One year ago I was president of Iowa State University.

In the late 19th century, George Washington Carver became the first African-American student at Iowa State. He then became the university's first African-American professor.

The son of slaves, Carver had to overcome enormous obstacles in his life to achieve an education. He became a great scientist, philosopher, a gifted artist. The entire scope of his talents, perhaps, were fully understood only by Carver himself.

He was wooed away from Iowa State to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama by another great African-American leader, Booker T. Washington. It wasn't money that enticed Carver to move.

Money is the calling of many people. But it was not the calling of Carver.

In a letter to Booker T. Washington, Carver explained his reason for transferring to Tuskegee, then a poor African-American institution. He said: "It has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of people possible; and to this end I have been preparing my life for these many years -- feeling, as I do, that this line of education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom to our people."

Carver was right. Education is the key to unlocking the golden door of true freedom.

Carver was affirmatively assisted in attaining his education at Iowa State. He went on to great accomplishments for his institution and this nation.

This past fall we established at Purdue a George Washington Carver Graduate Fellowship to be awarded every year to a student from a traditionally African-American university, or Hispanic serving or tribal college.

We have challenged other universities in the United States to do the same -- to fill this country with 21st century George Washington Carvers who will accomplish great works for the world in which we live.

I believe this is vital for our future.

I believe this because, with all due respect to President Roosevelt, he didn't mention another important freedom -- the freedom of opportunity for all.

There is much that we are doing at Purdue today to extend the opportunity of education to everyone.

There is much more we are planning to do.

There is much more we must do to open the golden doors of freedom.

In 1983 the United States Congress declared the third Monday in January a legal holiday marking the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sadly, in our country, holidays have become associated with doing nothing -- relaxing, resting.

And this is no time in our history to rest.

Today, several hundred Purdue people spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day working in the community -- volunteering at more than 25 non-profit agencies, doing jobs that fulfill Dr. King's message and promote his hopes and dreams.

This is a wonderful way to honor the principles for which Dr. King lived and died.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day to remember.

It is a day to take positive action for the present.

It is a day to make pledges for the future.

But it is just one day. And one day is not going to be enough.

If our generations are going to have a rendezvous with destiny, we need to make every day -- we need to make our entire lives -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We need to do this if we ever hope to accomplish our dream of true freedom for all people.

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