Today the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday celebrated every year on the third Monday of January, a day chosen because of its nearness to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday: January 15. But this holiday has not been in place for very long. The holiday legislation was passed by Congress in 1983, which was 15 years after Dr. King’s death.
The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from high school when he was 15 and began college not long after that. Over the course of 11 years, he received 2 undergraduate degrees and 2 PhD’s. After that, Dr. King became an activist leader and national figure for racial equality. Take a look at a few key events in Dr. King’s life:
1955 – King leads bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, after Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus.
1957 – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is co-founded by King.
1959 – Studies civil disobedience and nonviolence in India.
1963 – The March on Washington includes 200,000 protesters and King delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech.
1964 – King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed by Congress.
1965 – Selma to Montgomery voting-rights march and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is passed by Congress.
1968 – King visits Memphis and is assassinated there by James Earl Ray.
How MLK Day Came to Be
After Dr. King’s death, several key people combined efforts to create a national holiday to remember his work. One person was Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s wife, who said the holiday should honor “America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality.” She sent a petition with over 3 million signatures in favor of the holiday to Congress in 1971, but the bill didn’t pass. Stevie Wonder was also instrumental and wrote the song “Happy Birthday,” commemorating Dr. King’s birthday, which many took to be a rallying cry. When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, he sat on the fence over the issue and the bill met a lot of opposition, particularly from Senator Jesse Helms. But finally, in 1983, the holiday legislation passed designating the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
How to Recognize and Celebrate MLK Day
Because MLK Day is a federal holiday, many schools and businesses take the day off. That means many people will celebrate by catching up with friends, beating the next level on some video game, or going on a fun day trip with the family. However, many organizations are ready to put you to work on MLK Day. In fact, many call it a day of service and employ the slogan “a day on, not a day off.” You can find numerous opportunities to serve in your community this MLK Day and uphold the standards of service and equality that Dr. King stood for. You could participate in feeding the homeless, up-keeping a community cemetery, or even donating blood.
Service isn’t the only way you can celebrate this federal holiday. You can also take some time to study Dr. King’s life and work or perhaps read a book he wrote. There are several to choose from, including Stride Toward Freedom; Why We Can’t Wait; and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Another great idea is watching a nonfiction film commemorating his life.
Happy MLK Day!
From everyone at Low VA Rates, we’d like to say Happy MLK Day!