In honor of one of the most important and influential men of the 20th century, Curtis Patton proposed a toast.

Patton, professor and director of international medical studies at the Yale School of Medicine, paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tuesday at a reception at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. The event was held on King’s actual birthday, Jan. 15.

“I thought it would be appropriate to have a reception on Dr. King’s actual birthday,” Patton said.

Along with other faculty, students, alumni and staff members, Patton highlighted King’s many achievements by reading excerpts from the works of the civil rights leader.

Patton, originally from Birmingham, Ala., described King’s long struggle for racial equality by reading from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever,” he said, echoing King’s famous words.

The event’s speakers also emphasized King’s important contributions to the field of education.

“We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by half-truths, prejudices and propaganda,” said Cheryl Bergman, a research associate at the department, quoting King. “Education must enable one — to discern the true from the false.”

Patton said that King’s messages of peace and equality had a profound effect on his life, and that it is important to teach these views to today’s youth.

“He had a sense of obligation for the uplift of humanity,” Patton said of King. “He helped to make this nation what it ought to be and can be.”

The event also showcased the impact that King indirectly had on public health topics.

“Although he did not speak directly on public health issues, his goals and mission had a profound effect on public health, and we need to make a note of that,” Patton said.

The event was organized by the department’s minority affairs committee.

“It’s important to remember the impact Martin Luther King had on the lives of African-Americans and other minorities,” Johnny Lu ’05 said after the reception. “Tributes like this one help keep our memory alive.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the world’s best known advocates of non-violent civil disobedience. He helped organize many protest campaigns and mass demonstrations, culminating in a 1963 march of hundreds of thousands of supporters in Washington, D.C., where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.