“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” -- MLK Jr., "I Have a Dream"
Monday, January 20, 2014 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating what would have been the civil rights activist’s 85th birthday.
In 1955, a young minister in Alabama led a community uprising sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on the bus. That Minister was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the effort became known as the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was only the beginning - King continued to lead the battle for civil rights and the de-segregation of society until his death. King based his organizing on mass action and nonviolent civil disobedience.
King's daughter told Reuters that Americans can honour her father this year by making January 20th a “no shots fired” day and supporting his desire for nonviolence.
Modern-day activists have much to learn from Dr. King. He was labeled a radical by the FBI and investigated after his “I Have a Dream” speech. When he expanded his activist efforts to include poverty and the Vietnam War, he faced ridicule and threats from former supporters. King went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial inequality through nonviolent action.
In 1968 King travelled to Memphis, Tennessee to support sanitation workers in their fight against low wages and despicable working conditions. On April 4th, 1968 he was shot on the balcony of his motel.
President Ronald Reagan signed MLK Jr. Day into law in 1983, after a campaign to institute the holiday following King’s assassination. He is one of only three individuals to have a national public holiday named in his honour, joining George Washington and Christopher Columbus. Of course, there was widespread opposition to instituting the holiday. Many argued King wasn’t “important” enough, particularly given his unpatriotic views on Vietnam.
In Congress, the debate centred on the idea of honouring a private citizen with a public holiday, as well as the cost of giving federal employees a paid day off.
After the first MLK Jr. Day in 1986, many states chose to rename the holiday. It was known as Human Rights Day in Utah, or Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia, grouping the icon together with Confederate Army generals.
Most recently, the Martin Luther King Day of Service began to honour the late Dr. King with acts of community service. The spirit of the movement is to designate the holiday as “day on, not a day off.” Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service in 1994. The hope for Martin Luther King Days of Service is to bring people together in action, inching ever closer to “Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.'"
If you’re looking for ways to honour the legacy of Dr. King, and put his work into practice in your own life, check out this tool for embracing the nonviolent efforts of the great, late Martin Luther King Jr.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everybody. What are you doing to celebrate?