Honoring MLK

The unfinished journey towards economic freedom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. holding Nobel prize medal.
“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Charlene Crowell –

On January 15 our nation will again observe the only national holiday designated as a day of service.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday was first observed in 1986, but it took another 17 years for all 50 states to recognize the holiday, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

Economic Disparity Continues

While Rev. King dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom, peace, and justice for all Americans, too many economically marginalized people are reduced to fighting over scraps while others enjoy the nation’s economic bounty.

In 2022, 37.9 million people—11.5% of the nation—lived in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. Addition-ally, Black individuals made up 20.1% of the population in poverty in 2022 but only 13.5% of the total population, according to the Census Bureau.

The gold Nobel Prize medal features a portrait of Alfred Nobel.
The gold Nobel Prize medal features a portrait of Alfred Nobel.

The Bureau of Labor Standards reports that the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 an hour, has not increased since July 2009. And despite increases that take effect in many states in 2024, workers still earn only $7.25 per hour in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The Nobel Prize Speech

On December 10, 1964, Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee presented its Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. King saying in part, “[D]iscrimination will still persist in the economic field and in social intercourse. Realistic as he is, Martin Luther King knows this.”

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King said, “I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.” He continued, “The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are traveling to find a new sense of dignity…

He continued, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.”

“This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future,” added Dr. King. “It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom… Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.”

A True Tribute

Dr. King would urge Americans to remain vigilant and vocal in fighting attacks against diversity, equity, and inclusion. A true tribute to Dr. King would be a renewed groundswell of advocacy that ensures our march toward full freedom refuses to go back, but instead moves forward in the same determination of his life’s work. Social equity cannot be sustained without economic parity.

As a people and as a nation, let us confront these and other challenges in his memory.

Charlene Crowell
Charlene Crowell


Charlene Crowell is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at [email protected].

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