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Celebrating Dr. King: His Mission Still Resonates Half a Century Later

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A man visits the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the day that honors him on January 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Today the nation celebrates the life of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday highlights King’s activism during the days of Jim Crow and segregation.

One Milwaukeean who’s been impacted by King’s work is Reggie Jackson, head griot of America’s Black Holocaust Museum. He says that King’s teachings hold as much weight today as they did more than half a century ago.

"I’ve always been a big fan of Dr. King and his dedication to social justice work, racial justice work," Jackson says.

In the 1960s, when Jackson was a little boy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited his hometown in Mississippi and he says although he wasn’t old enough to know who King was, he considers that moment to be his personal connection to the civil rights activist.

"And I’ve always admired the fact that he was a multifaceted person. Even though we tend to think of him as just this 'I Have a Dream' person, he was so much more than that. He had such a broad scope of work that he was doing."

Reggie Jackson

Jackson says King’s work has influenced his life's work. He has done extensive research on race and racism and its implications, specifically in Milwaukee.

Jackson considers himself a public historian, and says he's opened a lot of people’s eyes to issues in the city, because many aren’t aware how some institutions have perpetuated inequality.

READ: How Did Metro Milwaukee Become So Segregated?

"I think it’s important to understand the agencies, the people, all of the things that helped to kind of create these problems we have. If you’re able to kind of understand all of those historically and see why they were put into place and how they continue to develop over time, it gives you a better idea of how you’re going to attack the problem moving forward."

Jackson says problems, such as segregation, haven’t changed that much in Milwaukee since the days of Dr. King and believes if King were still living, he'd say there’s still a long way to go in Milwaukee compared to other cities that have made progress in reducing racism and discrimination.

While laws have changed, Jackson says, some people still get away with discriminatory practices -- just not as openly as they would have in the 1960s.

"Looking back at some of the issues that he talked about 50 plus years ago..., one of the ones he talked about continuously was racial animosity, racism, discrimination and the power that has over the lives of people. And it’s, to me, in many respects is as prevalent today as it’s ever been," Jackson says.         

Despite the problems, he says society can still celebrate King's work -- today, and throughout the year. Jackson recommends people read King's books, and speeches -- including those that are not as well known.

"In the original draft of the speech that became the I Have A Dream speech, [King] talked about the fact that those of us who do this work, we have to make people aware that this work and what we hope comes out of this work will benefit all of us as a nation.”

Jackson encourages people to pick up the mantle -- and continue the work that King wasn't able to finish.

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