The Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. Day was enacted by the US Congress (legislative body) to honor the legacy of the assassinated civil rights and equality rights activist. The social justice movement led by Rev. Dr. King was infamous for its nonviolent and peaceful protests. Congress chose the date of Dr. King’s birthday for the holiday. A subsequent congressional act determined the official holiday observance to be the third Monday during January, annually.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, the son of Reverend Michael J. King, Sr, and Alberta Williams King. In 1934, after attending the Baptist World Alliance conference in Germany, the elder Rev. King had both his and his minor son’s names legally changed to Martin Luther in honor of the German protestant Christian reformer.
In his public life, Dr. King was a noted clergyman and committed pacifist who was openly opposed to the US involvement in the South Vietnamese war. He was also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Award.
The period in American history to which Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., was born, grew up and lived through will forever be notorious for it’s cruelty, inequality, terror and violence inflicted upon the persons of color (African-Americans, Indigenous people/Native American and Hispanic-Americans). The USA – the “cradle of democracy” -recognized and sanctioned, either legally or by practice, the reality of segregation (separation based on race).
This widespread discrimination forced millions of persons born in the USA to suffer the acceptable consequences of “second-class” citizenship (or worse). This enabled Caucasian Americans to qualify for exemplary status in benefits, education, living and working while the same was denied to all of the nonwhite population. Thus, democracy and freedom was available only to white Americans.
Managing to survive in such a restricted environment enabled Dr. King to recognize the inequalities and unfairness of the American system and this knowledge guided him into a leadership position to combat injustice. From early on, he admired and understood the religious belief and teachings of nonviolence and respect and he adopted these principles in this activism. The system made him suffer. His suffering made made the system insufferable.
Dr. King gained international recognition as he initiated boycotts, demonstrations and protests over the prevalent “Jim Crow” laws (official enactments that mandated segregation and seriously restricted the civil rights of nonwhite Americans) across the southern USA (the old confederacy) and beyond. These actions led to decisions and legislation to enact equality not only in the southern states but throughout the entire USA. He soon became known as a widely controversial yet very popular social and political activist. At the same time, he became famous and respected on the world stage as a global humanitarian, devoted to the improvement of the “quality of life” for everyone.
Martin L. King’s advocacy for civil rights expanded to include social justice for all Americans, regardless of their racial identification and/or ethnic heritage. At a time when the USA was increasing involvement in southeast Asia’s Vietnam War, he used his commitment to the strategy of nonviolent dissension and protest to become a proponent of a peaceful solution to the conflict. His combination of his public activism and his religious values enhanced his role in the eventual US withdrawal from military engagement in the Vietnamese civil war.
The Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., orchestrated the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) dominant role in the historical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which occurred on Sunday, August 28, 1963. He also delivered the keynote address at that event in what has since become as his “I have a dream…” speech.
Although not his most eloquent public pronouncement, the achievements (at that time, the largest attended gathering in Washington, DC) and the reality (first protest broadcast nationally on television) have made his remarks his most well-known public speech. His delivery of this address was both heartfelt and spontaneous. He actually began his intended speech but was soon inspired to discard his notes and delivered this message instead.
This demonstration, in the August humidity and sunshine, was historical as at the time it was held, it became the largest event to ever happen on the National Mall. Official attendance estimates of the audience reached 120,000. The actual event itself was peaceful and without a major incident. Most broadcast and print journalists had projected violent episodes throughout the day. Dr. King’s charisma and influence were attributed to the overall “American” success of the entire day. His admiration and respect from white people soared after this day, gaining for him a following that was no longer limited by racial identity.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was brutally assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee, on the evening of April 4, 1968. He was in Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. He was buried in Atlanta, Georgia (his birthplace) following a public state funeral on April 7, 1968. His remains were reinterred in the Martin L. King, Jr, Memorial Park in 2011.
He was survived by his wife, Coretta Scott King and their four children, Yolanda, Martin L. III, Dexter Scott and Bernice.
It is both ironic and poignant that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, located on the National Mall, Washington, DC, is the first national monument to an African-American was dedicated by the first African-American elected as president, President Obama, in 2011.
Dr. Martin L. King’s Achievements:
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Co-Founder, 1957; President until death
March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs
Principal organizer and keynote speaker, August 28, 1963
Nobel Peace Prize Recipient
received from His Majesty, King Gustaf VI Adolph of Sweden
October 14, 1964
Posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom
received from President Jimmy Carter
Author’s Note: The next posting here is planned for Friday, January 22, 2021 and the proposed topic is January Occasions.