Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 15 honors the reverend and activist’s legacy of social justice.
Born Jan. 15, 1929, Martin Luther King became one of the youngest people to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s model of nonviolent resistance, King believed that peaceful protest for civil rights would lead to sympathetic media coverage and public opinion. His instincts proved correct. National outrage grew at the televised coverage of violent attacks against peaceful protestors.
The Civil Rights Act ended the separation of drinking fountains, bathrooms and seating. It prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities and made employment discrimination illegal. It was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.
On April 4, 1968, while visiting Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. A National Day of Mourning was held on April 7. Ray eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 99 years. He died in prison in 1998 at the age of 70.
Nearly twenty years later, in 1983, Congress declared Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. And it was not without controversy. Several states chose to combine the commemoration of King’s birthday with other observances. Alabama, Arkansas (until 2017), Mississippi and Virginia, for example, celebrated a combination of “Robert E. Lee/or Jackson/Martin Luther King Birthday.” Arizona, Idaho, and Wyoming combined it with a Civil Rights/Human Rights or Equality day.
In 1986, King’s wife Coretta Scott King, gained congressional approval to establish a King Federal Holiday Commission to plan annual celebrations that would encourage “Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Dr. King.”
Today it is one of two federal holidays linked with a National Day of Service. The other is Sept. 11. Both Ameri-corps and the NAACP encourage individuals to continue Dr. King’s legacy of social justice and equity. Recommit by volunteering to serve others. Locally, with active food banks, family resource centers, hundreds of non-profits and multiple service clubs, volunteer opportunities are abundant. One could also take a moment to clean up a public space or mentor a young person.
According to the Ameri-Corps website, the MLK Day of Service has grown steadily over the last quarter century and its impact has only increased as more Americans embraced the idea that citizenship involves taking an active role in improving communities.
King’s message spread around the world. Tributes in his honor can be found globally. In Canada, the City of Toronto has officially recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 2005.
In Israel, during a visit by a U.S. naval fleet in 1984, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, held in the President’s Residence, Jerusalem. Aura Herzog, the wife of Israel’s then-President Chaim Herzog, noted that she was especially proud to host this special event because Israel had a national forest in honor of King and that Israel and King shared the idea of “dreams.”
In Japan, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba held a special banquet at the mayor’s office to unify his city’s call for peace with King’s message of human rights.
In the Netherlands, a Dr. Martin Luther King Tribute and Dinner has been held in Wassenaar for the past 35 years. It includes young people and veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. The dinner typically ends with everyone holding hands in a circle and singing “We Shall Overcome.”
In the United States, while progress has been made for civil rights, police brutality, economic barriers and general systemic racism continue. King’s words still ring true: “So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Perhaps by participating in service projects, divides may be bridged, wounds healed, and lasting changes made that benefit not only the islands but communities across the country. Perhaps, together, we can create a more just and equitable society, where everyone is valued and respected, regardless of their race, ability, religion, or background.
Orcas MLK event
A Community Concert celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be held on Sunday, Jan. 14, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Emmanuel Parish Hall in Eastsound.
Performers/presenters include Sharon Abreu and Michael Hurwicz, Tom Batter, Antoinette Botsford,
Berto Gándara, Mike Speece, Monica & Jeffry Steele, Rene Sturk, Madison West and the Tow Away Zone. Admission is free. Donations benefit: World Beyond War, the Orcas Food Bank and Emmanuel’s Community Dinner Kitchen. Refreshments will be provided but more are welcome.