The Blackman Voice

The Blackman Voice

The Blackman Voice

The History and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Wes Candela

   Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday honoring the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January. This year, however, the day falls on Jan. 15, which would be his 95th birthday. 

   King was a Baptist minister who was a strong advocate for racial desegregation. What set him apart from others was he believed in using nonviolent activism to get his message across. He led and participated in several important historical events that helped lead to better rights and equality for Black Americans.  

   Over the years, he was involved in a bus boycott, forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and leading the March on Washington. He was a vital part of the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, religion and national origin in public places: restaurants, hotels, parks, theaters, and more. That same year he won a Nobel Peace Prize. 

   After King’s assassination, the push for a federal day in his honor followed shortly after. President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1983, although it was only first observed in 1986. Seventeen years after being signed into law, all 50 states observed the holiday for the first time.  

   Former Senator Harris Wofford and Congressman John Lewis started the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. It was created with the goal of honoring King by encouraging Americans to volunteer their times in their own communities. AmeriCorps, a federal agency, gives grants to organizations and groups that plan events and activities on the day.  

   Locally, you can find many events in honor of King. This includes ceremonies, breakfasts, triathlons, silent gatherings and a basketball camp.

   King is known for his advocacy for nonviolence and the events he organized, but also his speeches and writings. He is most known for his “I have a dream” speech, but he has plenty of other speeches and writings. In one of his sermons, King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

   Senior Poe Rogers loves this quote as she feels that it is timeless, and it will always apply to any situation. 

   “Someday, they’ll know how awful they were, but they won’t remember you being awful in return. They’ll remember the unending kindness. In the situation Martin Luther King Jr. was leading at the time, compassion was crucial to marking the Civil Rights Movement because you don’t want something like that to be hallmarked by massive amounts of negativity on both ends,” explained Rogers. 

   Teacher Jillian Jackson likes to remind students that it is important to take a moment to think about why they have the day off from school. She is also thankful for King as he did so much, and it was not that long ago that desegregation and interracial marriage was not allowed. 

   “As humans our natural inclination is to respond to hate with hate but anyone that is honest with themselves can tell that doesn’t work. If you come to them with kindness only then will they understand you, if you come at them with hate they won’t see you as any different from them,” stated Jackson. 

   She continued by explaining it makes her sad that King was unable to see all the progressions and advancements we’ve made for equality. 

   Senior Justus Keith feels that we should have days to commemorate other historical Black figures who helped fight for civil rights. Referring to Malcom X, Keith said, “I like that he didn’t just sit down and take [discrimination].” 

   Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves as a reminder of the work he did in his life and the impact he had on the civil rights movement and equality. It is also important to remember that the civil rights movement was not that along ago and no single man alone ended segregation. As many of us spend our day off on Monday, take a moment to think about what the day means and the man it is about.  

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About the Contributor
Maia O’Brien
Maia O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief
Maia O’Brien is a senior, and this is her third year in journalism. She is the editor-in-chief. In addition to working for The Blackman Voice, she is a part of the band as a clarinet section leader. She loves to hang out with her family, friends and three cats. She loves all forms of art with painting, writing, music, and pottery.