The man behind the holiday


It’s one of those holidays that gains greater significance with each passing year. Incredible as it may seem, Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights champion, has been dead more years now than he was alive. 

The campaign for the holiday that is also known as MLK Day or King Day began soon after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983; it was first observed three years later.

Initially, some states resisted, giving it another name or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

Reverend King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolence as a way to achieve civil rights and to protest racial discrimination. His birthday is actually January 15 but the holiday was designated a floating one similar to others set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1968). This year, the federal holiday falls on Monday, January 19.     

Martin Luther King Jr., (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister and a leading force in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. His teachings and career was inspired by advocates of nonviolence like Mahatma Gandhi. 

King worked tirelessly for equality for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice. His role as the driving force behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington helped bring about the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).  King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35, becoming its youngest recipient.

There is no figure in American history who did more to define the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution nor extend its protection to all Americans. His “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington before an audience of hundreds of thousands of marchers, is widely regarded as the high water mark that culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. 

Many King admirers and fans of MLK history are making the trek to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. King’s memorial is located in the West Potomac Park area of the National Mall.

The truly monumental memorial is located at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the FDR Memorial in line of sight with the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Encompassing four acres, the memorial opened to the public on August 22, 2011. 

Dr. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall and the fourth non-president to be memorialized in this manner. The memorial is located in the West Potomac Park area of the mall, in sight of the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. 

The federal holiday has inspired a nationwide National Day of Service. In commemoration, there will be walks and activities in Sequoia National Park on Monday, Jan. 19, from 10 a.m till 2 p.m. In addition, Family HealthCare Network volunteers will perform a day’s work at the Woodlake Botanical Garden.

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