Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Desmond Benjamin, Editor: Virginia Bates

We all know the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a minister, activist, father, husband, leader of the March on Washington, and Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1964.  He gave love, hope, and respect.

He gave activists a path to do what they do today. He is known as one of the most iconic black activists in America.

Born on January 15, 1929, named Michael Luther King Jr., later changing his name to Martin, he was a multi-generational minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Spending all of his educational career in Georgia, he attended Yonge Street Elementary, Booker T. Washington High School, and then, in 1945, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. Afterward, he attended Chester, Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, and also Boston University where he earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology.

King had such a complex intellectual understanding of the world that he became known for shifting and emphasizing different kinds of influences depending on the audience. He did this by focusing on white theologians and philosophers while in front of white audiences, and black religious experiences while in front of black audiences. Later in his life both he and his advocates presented multiple different pictures of his development.

After King finished his courses at BU, he took his post as a minister in Montgomery, Alabama, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Dexter Avenue Baptist was a well-known church of well-educated middle-class blacks with a history of civil rights. Before taking the position, King considered working elsewhere.

Martin Luther King press conference / [MST

Preferably somewhere he could preach as well as teach. During his time, King had one of the highest black ministerial salaries in town at the time.

At the end of 1955, King and Corretta (his wife, married June 18, 1953) gave birth to their first baby girl, Yolanda Denise.

On December 1 1955 a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a full Mongomery bus. The bus policy stated that colored passengers fill the bus from the back while white passengers fill the bus from the front. Parks was a seamstress for the Montgomery Fair department store and a member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), having served as its secretary in the 1940s.

The driver that Parks defined then had her arrested and later released on $100 bail. Parks’ association with the NAACP struck a worldwide chain reaction. Also grabbing King’s attention. This then caused a boycott of Montgomery Public Transportation. The boycott lasted a year, which changed both King’s life and the city of Montgomery.

Because of this King became the target of numerous telephoned threats and a few actual acts of violence. His house was bombed, he was arrested under false accusations, and he was sued for various reasons, he became very known after these events.

Later on, in 1957 King and his followers assembled in Atlanta, and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the SCLC. The SCLC was made up of churches and clergy from across the South. They were created to coordinate protests which were inspired by the bus boycott. King was later then elected as president.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd.

Dr. King went on to do multiple other things, such as the Albany Movement of 1961. King went to Albany, Georgia in 1961 with the idea of transforming a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voter-registration drive into a full-fledged call for desegregation.

He also went to help with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which resulted indirectly from the non-violent direct action of protesters in Selma, Alabama, which was led by King. This Act made illegal all laws designed to prevent African Americans from registering to vote.

But unfortunately, on April 4, 1968, three years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a sniper named James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr. King as he stood on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel room.

His sudden death caused national outrage, shock, disbelief, and sorrow across the U.S. It also triggered riots in over a hundred U.S. cities. Dr. Martin Luther King was succeeded by his wife, Coretta Scott King, and his four children, Martin Luther King III, Yolanda King, Dexter King, and Bernice King, according to popular belief.

The calls for a day in King’s honor began days after his assassination on April 4, 1968. Rep. Jhon Conyers alongside senator Edward Brooke introduced a bill to Congress to create a federal holiday.

Even though initially unnoticed, Rep. Conyers did not waver in his efforts and was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus in his push to establish a federal holiday recognizing King. Three years following Rep. Conyers’ first attempt to establish a King holiday, the SCLC handed Congress a petition with around 3 million signatures. However, Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, founded the king’s memorial and would go on to sponsor the first observation of MLK Day in January 1969.

The following year, St. Louis became one of the first cities in the country to establish a city holiday honoring Dr. King. Later on, during the 1970s, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut became the first states to establish statewide holidays to celebrate the King.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter pledged support for the creation of the holiday. Coretta Scott and Rep. Conyers continuously fought an uphill battle. A little over a decade later, the legislation to establish a federal holiday in honor of the King passed through both houses and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day would officially begin being celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986. However, the battle for all states to celebrate this day is not over yet. Multiple southern states held out on celebrating this holiday. It took until 2000 for all fifty states to recognize and celebrate this national holiday.

So, every year on the third Monday of January, we come together as a nation to remember the sacrifices and struggles that a minister, father, husband, leader, activist, mentor, mentee, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and giver of hope, love, and peace made to make the world a better place. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.