Marin Luther King Day is celebrated in the memory of Martin Luther King, one of the most iconic American leaders of the 20th century. King was a champion of civil liberties and African-American rights in particular.
He remained the most celebrated and popular African-American leader during the Civil Rights’ Movement. The Martin Luther King Day is observed on the third Monday of every January. It marks King’s birthday and is a federal holiday.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist. He eventually became the most visible leader of the civil rights movement, until his assassination in 1968.
He was the chief spokesperson and leader of the African-American community against segregation and racist laws. In an attempt to beat racial segregation laws, he led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1957 before shifting his attention towards politics.
In 1963, he helped organize non-violent protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Later that year, he helped in the organization of the March on Washington, one of the most landmark civil rights events in American history.
Many civil rights’ leaders participated in the march and the event that was organized at its end. It was at this historic event that King delivered his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. This speech has become one of the most famous utterances in American history, often put at par with Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech.
Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. His tragic death spread a wave of grief and anger among civil rights’ activists and particularly the African-Americans whose rights he championed. Following his death, many activists and supporters proposed that some way be devised to commemorate him and his life. This was what led to the idea of the Martin Luther King Day.
The idea of the holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations after his death. The United States Representative, John Conyer, and United States Senator, Edward Brooke, both presented the bill in Congress to make his birthday a national holiday.
It was initially opposed – and failed to pass – as a national holiday in the House of Representatives when the bill was first brought to a vote in 1979. Many popular personalities, from politicians to artists, protested in favor of the bill. After an all-out support from all corners of the United States, President Reagan finally signed the bill proposing a national holiday in 1983.
Despite the holiday promulgated through a law passed by President Reagan, many governments and communities at state level refused to follow his lead. In 1987, Republican Senator Evan Mecham invalidated his predecessor’s executive order to make Martin Luther King Day a holiday in Arizona, citing that it was illegal.
In states like South Carolina, the day was deemed an official holiday only as recently as 2000. South Carolina was the last state to officially recognize Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday for all state employees. However, the municipal government of Forest City (North Carolina) allows employees to choose between their own birthday or Martin Luther King Jr. Day for a paid holiday.
Many employers give their employees a day off on Martin Luther King Day. In 2007 alone, nearly 33% of employers gave their employees the day off. However, the observation of this holiday is found to be more popular among NGOs, while manufacturers and businesses do not particularly observe the holiday. This is also due to the fact that Martin Luther King Day occurs just two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The National Martin Luther King Day of Service was officially started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, with the latter being a co-author of the King Holiday and Service Act.
The legislation encourages Americans to transform the holiday received on Martin Luther King Day into a day of volunteer actions in honor of the late Leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Since 1996, Senator Wofford’s former state office director, Todd Bernstein, has been directing the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service.
Martin Luther King Day is also recognized in various regions across the globe. He is symbolic for standing strong for his ideals and determinedly fighting for human rights. In Ontario, Canada, the government of Toronto officially recognizes the holiday, even though all government and private organizations continue to be open. The day was also observed in the Japanese city of Hiroshima under former-Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba. A special banquet would be held outside the Mayor’s office as a symbolic act of unifying his city’s call for peace with Martin Luther King Jr.’s message for humanity.
Other African nations also celebrate Martin Luther King Day and the legacy of the great man by teaching about his struggle in schools. A bust of Martin Luther King was secretly smuggled into South Africa when the country was still under apartheid. A great man, he resonates with millions across the globe regardless of cultural or religious differences. The day named after him is an occasion for his supporters around the world to celebrate the ideals he championed.