U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 14, 2023

A Life of Purpose

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

On November 2, 1983, the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday was signed into law. This day came only after an intense lobbying effort by the Congressional Black Caucus and so many others. The first national commemoration took place in 1986.

Today, in communities across the country, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated as a day of service and a time to rededicate ourselves to equity and social justice, particularly for people of color and those who have been marginalized and disadvantaged throughout our nation’s history.

Most of you are probably familiar with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.”

Or perhaps you’ve heard or read some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, written in 1963.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now, I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

At the time, bigots and haters, like the Klu Klux Klan, did all they could to stop Dr. King and the civil rights movement. But have no doubt, these are iconic moments in American history. If you have never listened to or read these in their entirety, I would urge you to do so. Soundbites can be useful, but I think it is important to hear the words in context of the full speech.

One additional speech that I would like to share with you was delivered by Dr. King at Dartmouth University on May 23, 1962 – one year before the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial. In addition to identifying the fateful similarities of extreme optimism and extreme pessimism – neither side wants to do anything about race relations – he sought to find balance in what he called a “realistic” position – “We have made significant strides. We have come a long, long way. But we have a long, long way to go.” He went on to say,    

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other, and they can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other. And I think one of the great tragedies of life is that more often men seek to live in monologue rather than dialogue. And there is the danger that this will happen in society.”

You can find video of Dr. King’s full speech, “Towards Freedom,” at this link, as well as a transcript.

As we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, we are reminded that the struggle for equity and inclusion continues. We shall not give into fear, but will work together to better our nation and ourselves.

Thank you for your time this weekend. Thank you for your service to our community. And thank you for keeping an open mind and an open heart.


Ben Cardin