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“In 1963,” Martin Luther King Jr. once told TIME, “the civil rights issue was impressed on the nation in a way that nothing else before had been able to do.” In recognition of King’s role in that change, the magazine named him Man of the Year. In a Jan. 16, 1964, letter to TIME co-founder Henry Luce, King explained what that designation meant to him—and to the movement:
Dear Mr. Luce:
I am deeply honored that your staff and editorial board saw fit to name me as your 37th Man of the Year.
In light of the unprecedented peaks of drama, history and tragedy that characterized the year 1963, I must say that it is with a deep sense of humility that I thank you for so naming me, realizing that there are so many others who justly and deservedly should be accorded such a tribute. I would like to think that this is indeed an honor not to be coveted by me personally, but rather one to be shared by the millions of courageous people who have been caught up in the gallant spirit of the entire freedom movement, even to offering their bodies as personal sacrifices to achieve the human dignity we all seek. This, then, I consider a high tribute to this disciplined legion of nonviolent participants who are working so untiringly to bring the American dream into reality.
Permit me also to congratulate TIME upon its inclusion in the article of many of the Negro professionals who have achieved success in numerous areas of the main stream of America that ordinarily might go unnoticed by TIME’s large audience of readers. This image of the Negro is certainly one that many of us like to see carried in the pages of our national periodicals, for it does much to help grind away the granite-like notions that have obtained for so long that the Negro is not able to take his place in all fields of endeavor and that he is lazy, shiftless and without ambition.
May I also say what a pleasure it was for me to meet your very fine and personable correspondent, Marsh Clark. I was tremendously impressed with his seriousness of purpose, dedication to his job and skillful ability as an interviewer and writer.
Again may I say thanks for the honor you have bestowed upon me and my constituents in the civil rights struggle. It will long be remembered in association with a year that has carved for itself a uniqueness in history.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Read the Original Story From 1963: America’s Gandhi: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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