The renowned civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a central role in the United States’ civil rights movement, and even after his passing in 1968, his legacy has remained impactful to future generations. It fell to his supporters and public servants to carry on his legacy. One such public servant was Senator George Voinovich who played a role in furthering the civil rights movement in Ohio by ensuring that all people were treated equally.
George Voinovich’s support began in 1975 when then Representative Voinovich, voted for the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Ohio; it became a state holiday more than eight years prior to the federal holiday. Further, in 1981, Mayor Voinovich supported the development of the Annual Commemoration in honor of MLK, an event that is celebrated to this day (MLK Jr. Holiday Commission’s 8th Annual Commemoration, 1.14.1993). Each year, Mayor Voinovich played an active role in ensuring the celebration was a success. Voinovich spoke at the various events regularly to encourage others to heed the call of MLK and his use of civil disobedience, and Voinovich encouraged other cities to celebrate Dr. King’s Holiday while President of the National League of Cities (Commemoration of Dr. MLK Day, 1.18.1986). It was through this work that Senator Voinovich was honored in 1989 with the Distinguished Service Award by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (MLK Jr. Holiday Commission’s 8th Annual Commemoration, 1.14.1993).
Senator Voinovich continually reiterated that while the United States had made major and important changes, the work was never fully complete. He expressed in a speech given at a Cleveland Baptist Church in 1989, “In spite of great progress in certain areas, his work is not done, and if we are honest, it will never be done. There will always be something more we can do” (Community Worship, 1.16.1989). Voinovich continued his work as governor with the 1992 Governor’s Challenge Conference, which focused on being proactive in the civil rights area, equal treatment for all, and addressing the riots that were occurring in other cities at the time. Governor Voinovich addressed the many improvements that had taken place in Ohio, such as the Cleveland Roundtable, race relations training for business leaders, updated police training for community engagement, as well as goals to increase diversity in city departments. Governor Voinovich also created the Ohio Family and Children First initiative to encourage equality at the beginning stages of life and education. His work was substantial enough that Dr. King’s widow, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, attended and spoke to gathered Ohio representatives at this conference to reiterate the goals of MLK and encourage them to follow his legacy (Governor’s Challenge Conference, 6.2.1992).
Senator Voinovich continued the mission of MLK once he was elected to the United States Senate. He presented a bill in 2004 called the Uniting Neighborhoods and Individuals to Eliminate Profiling Act of 2004. He urged his fellow senators and the president to address the issue of racial profiling and bring together communities that had been “torn apart by racial unrest” (Racial Profiling Floor Statement, 2.25.04). While the bill did not pass, Senator Voinovich had made a statement that racial equality was still an important topic all of the United States should address and work towards. Throughout all stages of political life, Senator Voinovich continually supported the work of Martin Luther King Jr. through his own goals and accomplishments in public office, and always encouraged citizens to do the same.