“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 20 marks the 13th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, an American federal holiday observed in all fifty states. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year (his birthday is January 15) and celebrates his life and vision.
Rev. Dr. King is most often remembered for his powerful stance during the Civil Rights Movement for nonviolent, peaceful resistance, which successfully protested state and federal racial discrimination. Civil rights encompass a vast range of laws and privileges that guarantee citizens certain freedoms, including the right to own property; the right to enter into contracts and initiate lawsuits; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of speech; and the freedom of use of public facilities, including schools and restaurants.
When Rev. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, a campaign for a federal holiday in his honor was initiated, most notably by his widow, Coretta Scott King, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and music legend, Stevie Wonder. Although President Ronald Reagan would sign the holiday into law in 1983, it would not be observed until 1986. There was considerable opposition to this law. Protests were raised from politicians such as Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Some states, including Arizona and South Carolina, refused to recognize the holiday. Some even resorted to renaming and/or sharing the holiday. It was called “Human Rights Day” in Utah, while Alabama and Mississippi, ironically, share the holiday with the birthday of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army. Consequently, it was not until the year 2000 that all U.S states would observe Martin Luther King Day.
The impact of Rev. Dr. King’s life is monumental and global! However, I want to also acknowledge that his work was inspired by many who preceded him, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi and Ida B. Wells. He, in turn, would also inspire many, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama. During this Martin Luther King Day, I encourage you to take this time to not only learn about this brilliant and courageous man, but also of others committed to the struggle to attain civil rights for all. Please check out our many book suggestions here.