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CNN.com readers remember fallen civil rights leader

  • Story Highlights
  • Readers reflect on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on federal holiday in his honor
  • Ex-self-described "cracker" says King's words now seem reasonable, moderate
  • Another reader: "Black America today has become content with what we have"
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(CNN) -- Many Americans spent Monday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by recalling the civil rights icon's legacy nearly 40 years after his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.

CNN.com readers shared their memories and reflections on the Nobel laureate's slaying, his message of nonviolent protest and what it all means today.

Nellie Ghinger of Powder Springs, Georgia

Martin Luther King died on my 13th birthday. I did not celebrate it out of respect for Mr. King. There was no reason to celebrate when the world back then looked so grim. I was terrified that I would be killed too. I didn't understand why this happened to someone who wanted to help people -- and not just the African Americans. I am a Puerto Rican American born in the Bronx, New York, and I watched my parents treated with contempt because they weren't white. I remember the sting of hurt each time my parents opened their mouths to speak as someone made fun of their broken English. I remember the hope my parents felt when MLK made his speech, "I have a dream" and how it empowered them to speak boldly without fear. I remember how it was all drowned in one moment in April, 1968.

Muayad Al-Yasin of Eden Prairie, Minnesota

He showed that anything is possible, that a dream is nothing but a lift of a finger and a word out of your mouth. As an Arab American I do hope that someone like Dr. MLK would step up and start unwashing the brains of the insurgents and terrorists around the world.

Jeff Werrell of Anthem, Arizona

I was only in fourth grade when we listened to MLK on a record player in our classroom. I remember feeling excited along with everyone else in class when he gave his speech. He was so passionate and fiery. After the speeches had ended ... our teacher explained what assassination was, and that it had happened to him 10 years before. I felt like it had just happened, and thought about the waste of his loss. ... I hope that one day we have someone with his hope, passion and love with us again.

Larry Stephens of Juno Beach, Florida

I read the text of Dr. King's speech this morning. I was only 18 then and pretty much of a cracker at the time. I honestly can't remember how I responded. However, today at 62 his words seem not only reasonable but moderate and quite civil compared to the rhetoric of 2008.

Kathleen Eastwood of Cornwall on Hudson, New York

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I was 17 years old when Dr. King was assassinated. His killing was a shock to me coming five years after JFK was assassinated and right before Robert Kennedy's assassination. All had tried to make a difference in civil rights and at the time, I thought it was because of the fight for civil rights that they were killed. ... I still have newspaper clippings in a scrapbook, yellow with age, about that era in the '60s, especially the 'I Have a Dream' speech and news on his march on Washington. ... He brought people together with love, not hate, by showing us how civil disobedience can teach a nation about what is right and what is wrong, and [he] taught us that constitutional rights were for all the people and not just for a select few. Video Watch how impact of King's legacy is still felt today »

Greg Johnson of Fredericksburg, Virginia

As a black American man who was a child during the civil rights movement of the '60s, I have first-hand childhood memories of many of the accounts today's young people read about in history books. ... Unfortunately black America today has become content with what we have and what we have accomplished as a people that we no longer feel the need to continue this fight. We see wealthy celebrities in sports, movies and government and are lulled into a false sense of equality. But we fail to realize that successful black Americans we see in the spotlight make up a very small percentage of black America and that many of us still experience racial inequality almost daily.

Jeff Greenley of Provo, Utah

When I was a young man, I was part of a special program where white students were bused to inner-city schools. ... As a result of this experience, I love Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Every year we used to sing songs about the great achievements this man made. None of this ever compares however to the sweet stories our librarians used to tell us. ... I was forever shaped as a young man by the sweet testimonies these great women gave about how much better their lives were as a result of that great man. I have forever been touched in my heart by his memory and hope that we can still take steps toward fulfilling his dream.

Lawrence Hartung of Elysian, Minnesota

The day MLK was shot I was a young Marine stationed in Millington, Tennessee, getting ready for deployment to Vietnam. We were immediately assembled for riot control and boarded trucks for Memphis. I was surprised that conditions were not more severe. We didn't view MLK, and whatever it was that he stood for, as anything significant. To this day, I'm still not sure as to how significant MLK's role was or how he fit into things. I think other blacks played a much bigger role in that movement than did MLK; they just didn't get the recognition.

Christopher Newton of Roanoke, Virginia

Dr. King was a great American. Unfortunately, his vision that people be treated based upon the content of their character rather than the color of their skin is still not yet realized.

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Jarvis Jones of Wentzville, Missouri

I personally find that we have made only small strides in the battle against racism in this country and that much more needs to be done. ... Do we just keep dreaming, or can we act and do something positive about it on behalf of "all" of the people, as Dr. King wanted it? E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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