January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a pastor. King Jr. was very intelligent and graduated from high school at age fifteen. He studied at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1955. By then he was the pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He married Coretta Scott, a woman he had met while in Boston.

King Jr. had always been concerned with civil rights. He became a member of the executive committee for the NAACP and led a boycott of the segregated Montgomery bus system that lasted over a year and led to the desegregation of the bus system. In 1957, King Jr. became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that took its ideas from Christianity. He spent the next eleven years traveling and speaking to promote civil rights. He led the March on Washington in 1963, during which he gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech during the March on Washington: credits to aphelis.net
 He supported non-violence and used civil disobedience to get his message across. He was arrested many times. King Jr wrote five books, was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963, and became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He donated his prize money to the civil rights movement. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated, shocking the nation.

Four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., an African-American Democratic congressman from Michigan named John Conyers proposed a bill that would declare January 15 a federal holiday in King Jr.'s memory. The bill was met with resistance in Congress, but Conyers re-introduced it at each new legislative session. In the 1970s, cities, beginning with New York City and St. Louis, began commemorating King Jr.'s birthday. In 1974, Illinois was the first state to celebrate MLK Day as a state holiday. In 1981, Stevie Wonder released a song, "Happy Birthday," to support the idea of a federal holiday honoring MLK Jr. Wonder and Coretta Scott King presented a petition with six million signatures supporting the federal holiday to Congress the following year. Congress passed the holiday bill in 1983. The date was moved from January 15 to the third Monday of January. President Reagan signed the bill, and the federal holiday went into effect in 1986. However, Arizona boycotted MLK Day until 1992, and it was not until the following year that it was recognized as a state holiday in all fifty states.

MLK Day can be celebrated in many ways. Some schools get the day off. Other schools teach children about Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he helped our nation. Some people like to participate in service projects on MLK day. Information on these projects can be found at mlkday.gov. "A day on, not a day off" is a common saying, according to this website.

Today was a particularly special Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as it was also the day of President Obama's second inauguration. People gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King Jr. and his father had served as pastors, to celebrate MLK Day. King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice, made an appearance at the service. The congregation was invited to watch the inauguration on a big-screen TV. However, they insisted on singing "We Shall Overcome" to honor MLK Jr. first. In Washington, President Obama took the oath on two Bibles - one that had been used by Martin Luther King, Jr., and one that had been used by Abraham Lincoln. He considered it a great privilege, according to the Huffington Post.

Birthday shoutouts to Dad and Josiah

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting blog post about a man who accomplished so much and paid the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. I can still remember people singing "We Shall Overcome" at his funeral, which was shown on TV.

    I also seem to recall that Michigan first celebrated MLK Day in 1978 - I was working part-time at a bank and got the day off because it being a new bank holiday that year!