The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, on 16th January 2017, celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. Martin Luther King was an important civil rights activist. He was a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. His most famous address was the “I Have A Dream” speech. He was an advocate of non-violent protest and became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet he was assassinated in 1968. Shortly after his death a campaign was started for his birthday to become a holiday to honour him.
US Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The day itself was then moved to the third Monday in January, which helped combat opposition to the law – the main argument being that the holiday was too close to Christmas and New Year’s. Martin Luther King Day is now a federal holiday, celebrating the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. He is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transport and for racial equality in the United States.
The idea behind the holiday was so that all Americans could come together to commemorate Dr King, as well as reaffirm the values he taught – values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service. All of these were so clearly defined by Dr. King and exuded by him through both his character and empowered in his leadership. This holiday is about remembering the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.
So just how to people celebrate? Martin Luther King Day is a relatively new holiday and so there are few long standing traditions. Educational establishments tend to mark the day by teaching their students about the work of Martin Luther King and the struggle against racial segregation and racism. The day itself is also combined with other days in different states, for example, it is combined with Civil Rights Day in Arizona and New Hampshire and with Human Rights Day in Idaho. The day is known as Wyoming Equality Day in the state of Wyoming. Non-essential Government departments are closed, as are many corporations. Small companies, grocery stores and restaurants tend to be open, although a growing number are choosing to close now.
Recent federal legislation encourages Americans to give some of their time on Martin Luther King Day, to volunteer in citizen action groups. They go into hospitals and shelters and prisons, wherever people need some help. It is a day to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutor those who can’t read, mentor at-risk youngsters and a thousand other projects for building the community of King’s dream.
It is claimed that no other day of the year brings so many Americans, of so many different cultures, together in such a spirit of brother and sisterhood. All of the communities: African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Caucasian and Asian-American are all a part of Dr King’s great dream for America. It isn’t a black holiday; it is an everyone’s holiday.