Sanders said King saw not only the need to end racism and segregation in the United States but to fight to create an economy that works for all Americans.
“Today we are not just celebrating the life and work of a great African-American civil rights leader, a man who led the effort to end segregation and racism, a man who was jailed time and time again and who was maligned over and over again,” Sanders said during remarks on the day after what would have been King’s 88th birthday and on the 31st anniversary of the federal holiday in his honor.
He admired King’s “unbelievable courage” to build on his civil rights legacy and fight for oppressed people of all races and to confront national leaders over the Vietnam War.
“Let us not forget for a moment where Dr. King was when he was assassinated. He was standing up with exploited workers in Memphis, Tennessee,” Sanders said. “Let us also not forget that what Dr. King was working on in the last years of his life was a poor peoples’ march.”
Sanders also said King has a message for America today.
“If we are going to be honest in our support for Dr. King, it is necessary for us to bring his sprit and his courage into the year 2017,” the senator said.
Voter suppression efforts by states must be confronted, Sanders said. “And King’s message on poverty and peace and national priorities also resonates today in a nation with one of the highest rates of childhood poverty of any major nation on earth, the only major country that does not provide health care as a right for all people and the nation with more people in prisons than any other country in the world.”
“The great strength of Dr. King,” Sanders concluded, “was that he understood that real change never takes place from the top on down but takes place when millions of people stand up and fight for justice.”
Sanders was invited to participate in the annual tribute by the Rev. Bernice King, the civil rights leader’s youngest daughter.