CBS News asked all the major presidential candidates for their thoughts about Dr. King's legacy and its impact on their lives. Portions of some responses were shown on The Early Show Monday. Extended commentary is reproduced below in this Web-only report:
I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Dr. King. He was able to galvanize a country and inspire a movement that tapped into the conscience of the entire nation: black, white, Jew, Gentile, Protestant, Catholic, North, South. People realized that, in fact, we were bound together, that we had a stake in each other. And that energy allowed me to get the education that I was able to obtain and allowed me to go forward into the political career that I've been able to participate in, and I certainly wouldn't be running for president if it weren't for him.
So, he remains a touchstone of what public service really means and for me, to be able to stand at the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a congregation that is so closely associated with Dr. King and his legacy, and being able to talk about unifying the country around the urgent moral problems that we face today; that was a powerful thing, and I felt like things had come full-circle, because I certainly stand on his shoulders.
What went through your mind today as you stood at Dr. King's tomb with his sister?
What I am reminded of is that this history is so recent. There was a woman singing in the choir today who sang at his funeral. It's only been forty years since he was assassinated, but you think of the enormous strides that have been made since that time, for me to be able to run for president, and yet I am also mindful that a few blocks away from that church there is still incredible poverty, as bad as there was 40 years ago. And so, it's a sign how much progress we have made and how much progress we still have to go.
Martin Luther King was assassinated while I was in prison. The North Vietnamese never told us about putting a man on the moon. But they told us about the shameful tragedy of his death.
He obviously has been an inspiration to all of us who presume to serve our country, but one of the great privileges in my life has been to get to know one of his chief lieutenants, Congressman John Lewis. In fact, I've taken my children to have the opportunity to meet him. Because that's someone that I've really gotten to know, whereas, I did not know Dr King. But I know John Lewis, and I know what he represents. And John Lewis and I may disagree on some issues, but that's the kind of person I think are true American heroes.
Dr. King had profound influence on me ever since I heard him speak when I was a young girl (which) my church helped to arrange. I have been so moved and so touched by his life, his commitment to non-violence - and I was devastated when he was assassinated. But I continue to read what he wrote and to be inspired by him.
Martin Luther King was really the one who brought civil rights to the forefront of the American people. Government came dragging and kicking. It finally came, but it wouldn't have happened had it not been for the prophetic and strong voice of this Christian leader and preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his legacy obviously lives on far beyond him. But his courage and his clarity of why this was not a political issue, this was a moral issue that America had to face will have, again, eternal impact, and we owe him a lot for his willingness to take a stand, no matter what it cost him - and ultimately it cost him his life.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great influence on me, a great influence on everyone. He gave us a sense of what equality means. He pointed out a hypocrisy that had been going on in this country for so long - that by shaming people, by getting them to see that through non-violence, that there was this dichotomy between what America believed and what it did, he created tremendous change. Change that we're feeling today. And yes, change about race, but also about other forms of discrimination, other forms of bigotry, other forms of lack of tolerance, and I think we're still feeling the impact of that.
And the work of Dr. King isn't finished, but he certainly made a tremendous contribution to America beginning to live up to its ideals - ideals that have been there from the beginning, but ideals that haven't been recognized from the beginning, because the actions weren't the same as the great ideas that existed in our Constitution, in our Declaration of Independence.
And Dr. King found a way to do it through non-violence, through prayer, through reaching people in a very, very deep and emotional way that was probably unlike anyone else. Many, many people contributed - many people made great contributions. Dr. King was at the forefront of that.
Dr. King was controversial in his time. There were people who admired him - I did. People who loved him, and people worried about him.
But the great thing about Dr. King is he knew what he believed and stuck with it. And he won over many, many people who maybe originally weren't on his side. He was able to reach them in a way that very few other people were able to reach people.
But I think it came from the fact that he was someone who stuck with what he believed in. I mean, his idea of non-violence, some people didn't agree with, and some people felt what he was too disruptive, some people felt that what he was doing didn't go far enough. But Dr. King believed he would be able to bring about change through the use of non-violence. And even though it was controversial, he did it, he accomplished it, he stuck with it - and his impact was felt then and is felt, I think, just as much now.
I remember vividly, earlier this year being in Marks, Miss., where Dr. King started his poor people's march. And actually being there with some of the people who were involved in that march and seeing both their description - hearing their description - of how things were then and the incredible struggles that still exist today in places like Marks, with the issue of poverty ... I spoke in Riverside Church in Harlem earlier this year, where Dr. King gave his legendary speech about silence being betrayal, if you weren't speaking out - in his case, against the Vietnam War. It had a huge impact on me.
There are a lot of times when people think they can't do anything to change their community or their school or some aspect of our society that's a problem. But he, as one person, deeply religious and spiritual, was able to touch the American heart and break down the barriers that had kept America from implementing the full promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal by their Creator. And his inspiration has changed America, but it's changed a lot of hearts also in ways that are extraordinarily profound and that take us into other realms, as we see the power of an individual - the power of a man inspired and who was willing to put himself on the line to make a difference for everyone else.