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USA News

First plaque honouring Dr Martin Luther King Jr unveiled at London church

by Ros Mayfield

The first blue plaque commemorating the American Baptist preacher Dr Martin Luther King Jr has been unveiled at a church in north London.

The heritage plaque, at Bloomsbury Baptist Church in Camden marks the first time the civil rights leader came to the capital, just two years before he spoke the famous words, 'I have a dream' in Washington DC.

Some of the members of the congregation can still remember his brief visit, on a Sunday morning in 1961.

Speaking at the unveiling, Jane Hartley, the USA's ambassador to the UK, described Dr King as, "a man whose words and deeds accomplished nothing less than truly the elevation of the human race."

She recalled some of his best-loved quotes, and said that the civil rights leader's message is as important today as it was when he preached there, more than 60 years ago:

“His life and his legacy have moved so many people in our country. And clearly the same is true here in Bloomsbury.

“In his speeches, and in his writings, he urged us to expand opportunity for everyone to create good jobs with fair wages, and safe neighbourhoods.

“He asked us to expand our moral imagination, and show compassion for the less fortunate.

“He told us that… injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.

“And most of all, he pushed us to pull down the barriers between people of different races of different religion of different classes.

“He believed in a better society, where we judged people not on their background, or their wealth or their ethnicity, but always always on the content of their character.”

Now run by English Heritage, the London blue plaques scheme was started in 1866 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world. Across the capital 1,000 plaques, on buildings humble and grand, honour the notable women and men who have lived or worked in them.

Ambassador Hartley encouraged those present to consider carrying on Dr King's legacy, through acts of service and by engaging with issues of justice in their own communities.

"Maybe it's through your church, maybe this very church, or through your community, or your school, or even your government. But I do know, we won't change anything, if we don't get involved."

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