Martin Luther King Jr. Day, also known as MLK Day, is celebrated every third Monday in January to remember the birth and life of the famous civil rights leader.
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The holiday is officially known as the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and marks his birthday. King’s actual birthday was 15 January, but the date chosen for celebration is the third Monday of January each year. The day was also previously known as Civil Rights Day in New Hampshire and Arizona.
MLK Jr. was born on 15 January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He worked as a Baptist minister and a civil rights activist and began making a significant impact on race relations in the mid-1950s. As head of the SCLC, he was also a major spokesperson for nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights Movement. This movement protested very successfully the racial discrimination perpetuated in federal and state law.
MLK therefore played a significant role in ending legal segregation of African-Americans in the South and across the nation, in the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and also in the creation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. MLK is famous for his 1963, “I Have a Dream”. He received many honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, before he was assassinated in April 1968.
History of the Holiday
Following King’s assassination in 1968, a rather immediate campaign was made to create a federal holiday in his honor. The holiday was finally signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. By 1986, it was first observed. Some states refused to acknowledge the holiday for many years. It was not until 2000 that all fifty states in the United States celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
Although a relatively new holiday without many traditions, it is generally seen as a day to celebrate the promotion of equality regardless of race or colour. Some schools focus on a special segment in their curricula to focus on the Civil Rights movement during this time.
Federal legislation also encourages Americans to volunteer in citizen action groups. In some states, the holiday is combined with other holidays. For example, Arizona and New Hampshire combine Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Civil Rights Day. In Idaho, it falls on Human Rights Day. Wyoming celebrates Wyoming Equality Day. Others combine this day with Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
Black History Month
MLK Day is celebrated in conjunction with Black History Month. In Atlanta, where MLK was born, there are especially a number of events in his honor. While many cities hold 5Ks or other walks and races, Atlanta runs a 10-day program full of workshops and lectures, a commemorative church service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and mobilises over 3,000 volunteers to serve local communities, schools, and nonprofits with Hands On Atlanta. Cities like Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco also hold a variety events. These include:
- honor luncheons
- lectures and workshops
- African-American History in museums
- library events
- dance and theatre
- children’s crafts
Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, the celebrations for MLK Jr.’s birthday are only growing. The traditions are expanding more and more each year to include opportunities for learning, volunteering, and honoring a figure and movement so important to the African-American community, as well as for the human rights movement as a whole.
The effects of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work have not only affected the lives of those in America, but also of those around the entire planet. It is amazing the kind of impact MLK’s work had on a world still lacking equality a full century after the Civil War. Although the work is not finished, MLK’s contributions to the Civil Rights movement – a cause for which he died – has made a profound impact on equality in America.