Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday

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MLK Day is celebrated annually in America on the third Monday of January (Credit: www.sanantonio.gov)

On Monday, January 20, 2020, Americans will celebrate Martin Luther King (MLK) Day. The federal holiday, commemorated annually on the third Monday of January, serves multiple purposes. It honors the life and legacy of the activist who led the fight for racial equality, brings focus on current civil rights issues, highlights the power of using nonviolence to bring about social reform, and inspires young people to consider joining public service.

MLK was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929, a time when racial segregation was a way of life in the southern states. He first became aware of the practice at age six when his best friend, who happened to be white, was sent to a different elementary school than the one MLK attended. As he grew older, MLK realized that black and white people led disparate lives – they ate at different restaurants, went to different schools, and even sat in separate areas when traveling on buses and trains.

MLK witnesses President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Credit: Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office /Public domain)

It was not until the summer of 1944, when he went to work in the tobacco fields in Hartford, Connecticut, that MLK realize that things were different in the northern states. In a letter to his father, the surprised 15-year-old said, "After we passed Washington, there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit anywhere we want to.” Though it took a few years before MLK's quest to bring about equality for all began, the seed had been planted.

In 1954, MLK, now an ordained minister, had the choice to become the pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, where racial discrimination was prevalent, or to accept a similar position in the more progressive states of New York or Massachusetts. Fortunately for Americans, MLK, and his wife Coretta Scott King, chose Alabama. As head of the church, MLK tried to persuade his largely black congregation to register to vote and join the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.

However, his active quest for racial equality did not begin until December 1955, when civil rights activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to vacate her bus seat for a white passenger. Angry at the injustice, MLK led the charge to convince the city's African American residents to boycott public buses and trains. Despite having no other mode of transport to get to work, the locals stepped up to the challenge – not for a day or month, but an entire year! As news of the protest spread, African American residents from other southern states joined in, resulting in the first-ever concerted effort to fight racial discrimination. Their sacrifice did not go in vain. In 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled segregation on public transportation illegal.

MLK gave his most famous speech following the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 (Credit: www.chaseoaks.org)

Eager to bring about further reform, MLK began traveling the country to encourage Americans to protest against the various injustices that still prevailed by staging peaceful sit-ins, boycotts, and marches. The activist soon became known for his inspiring speeches, the most memorable one of which was delivered in 1963.

The events leading to the oft-quoted 'I Have A Dream' address began in June 1963, when President John F. Kennedy asked the US Congress to approve a bill giving all Americans equal access to public places. To try to persuade government officials to sign it into law, civil rights leaders encouraged Americans to stage a peaceful rally in Washington, DC. Over 200,000 residents from across the country heeded their call and arrived at the capital on August 28th, 1963, to participate in what later became known as the March on Washington. It was here that MLK, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, talked about his dream of living in a country where everyone was treated equally.

MLK believed that we can all do our share by standing up against injustices and helping people in need (Credit: media.defense.gov)

The Civil Rights Act, passed on July 2, 1964, was the first significant victory in the activist’s mission to achieve equality for all Americans. The August 6, 1965 approval of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allows African Americans to cast votes, was another step in the right direction. The 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of property, signed into law on April 11, 1968, sealed the deal. Unfortunately, MLK, who was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, did not experience life in a segregation-free America.

Today, thanks to the clergyman-turned-activist's courage and efforts, all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, can pursue their dreams. It is now up to all of us, both young and old, to protect MLK's legacy for future generations by fighting against societal injustices and helping those in need. As you celebrate the holiday on Monday, January 20, be sure to reflect upon what you can do to make a difference and create your own legacy.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Resources: constitutioncenter.org, wikipedia.org, History.com

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168 Comments
  • magsr
    magsrSunday, January 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm
    I'm so sad thinking about what African American people went through in that time and are still going through now.
    • naeim
      naeimFriday, January 24, 2020 at 7:27 am
      happy martin luther king jr. day
      • blueandgold
        blueandgoldThursday, January 23, 2020 at 5:47 pm
        Could you imagine what would have happened if MLK was never born?
        • fate34
          fate34Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 2:33 pm
          I couldn't imagine😔 (BTW I love ur avatar)
          • moonlightwolf
            moonlightwolfFriday, January 24, 2020 at 8:10 am
            The world would be so sad.
          • blueandgold
            blueandgoldThursday, January 23, 2020 at 5:41 pm
            My friend's friend is related to MLK!!
            • jesusnumber1
              jesusnumber1Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 1:14 pm
              equality for all
              • im_happy
                im_happyThursday, January 23, 2020 at 1:12 pm
                I'll do my intake on this. I loved it. It really shows why we should care for each other and be supportive no matter who we are. We were all born unique, and the old rules tried to make it so we couldn't spread our beautiful wings and be together. Thank you, everyone who fought for our equality.
                • jesusnumber1
                  jesusnumber1Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 1:10 pm
                  in a sense we are all a mlk when we fight so that others arent bullied and are safe
                  • jesusnumber1
                    jesusnumber1Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 1:08 pm
                    mlk changed the world but he did so much more than that he was amazing it was sad to see him go
                    • am-olm1
                      am-olm1Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 8:03 pm
                      Yeah, to bad he died
                    • silentwashere
                      silentwashereThursday, January 23, 2020 at 9:17 am
                      Oh, how I wish he was alive. He did so much for us. If he was alive, he would be 91 years old. I hope he has a good time in heaven.
                      • am-olm1
                        am-olm1Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 8:02 pm
                        Well he would have to do some amazing stuff!
                      • 334fs
                        334fsThursday, January 23, 2020 at 9:14 am
                        Your grandpa was friends with MLK!?!