How are you marking this Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 21—The holiday’s official name is “Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.,” but many people also refer to this annual milestone as: National Day of Service.

The main federal website to get involved—and connect with others—is the National Service website. That site offers a lot of information about regional events and opportunities. On the site’s front page, you will find a link to add information about your own local events. Plus, there’s a helpful link to free lesson plans for kids, courtesy of Scholastic. Inside, there’s an index to a host of webinars and other resources for adults who want to encourage community service. Want tips on organizing a book drive, a fitness event—or a community tree planting program? Check out this page.

Many adults alive today recall the long and bumpy journey to establishing this milestone of the civil rights leader. And the story isn’t over …

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, some representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986.

However, it took until 2000 for all 50 states to actively participate. To this day, a handful of states still officially insist on using alternative names and perspectives on the holiday.

KING’S LIFE AND LEGACY online magazine has lots of resources for reflecting on Dr. King’s life and legacy …

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)


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Categories: National Observances

Anniversary: Rastafari, Civil Rights marks birthday of Marcus Garvey

“[Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale … to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 1965

Painting of dark-skinned man with colorful background and quote

Marcus Garvey Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Mark Gstohl, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, AUGUST 17: A Black Nationalist who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., united Malcom X’s parents and now has schools, colleges, highways and buildings honoring him across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and United States is honored today, on the anniversary of his birth: the birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.

Throughout his life, Marcus Garvey led the Black Nationalist movement by creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founding the Negro World newspaper as a major vehicle for communication and launching the Black Star Line, an international shipping company. Through the 1920s, Garvey’s public speeches contained mention of a “black king” who would soon be crowned in Africa and offer deliverance; the Rastafari believe Garvey to be prophetic, foretelling the crowing of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. For the Rastafari, Garvey is still seen as a religious prophet, similar to St. John the Baptist.


Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey learned to read in his father’s library and sought to unite Africans of the diaspora. The UNIA, formed in 1914, was the “broadest mass movement in African-American history,” created with a mission to provide economic and educational opportunities and inspiration for Africans of the diaspora. (Learn more from and The UNIA developed the Pan-African flag (colored red, black and green) to represent a race and movement. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Garvey worked hard to develop a colony for free blacks in Africa. (Wikipedia has details.) At its peak, the UNIA claimed millions of members.


During his lifetime, Marcus Garvey also faced criticism from many quarters, including from many African-Americans. One of his critics was W.E.B Du Bois. Nonetheless, Garvey’s efforts fueled what eventually became the Civil Rights movement and the concept of a secular organization for blacks. Earl and Louise Little, parents of Malcolm X, met at a UNIA convention in Montreal; the Rastafari continue to view Garvey as a prophet. Garvey died in London in June of 1940.

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesRastafari

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Ushering in 50th year since Nobel Prize, Civil Rights Act

Black-and-white photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. at a podium

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

MONDAY, JANUARY 20: In August, the world marked 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s infamous “Dream” speech in Washington D.C.; today, on America’s celebration of his 85th birthday, the world looks toward two more monumental anniversaries in 2014: the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the 50th anniversary of the granting of a Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. King.

Leaders of The King Center in Atlanta, Ga., focus their year’s theme on inspiring and educating young people to “Choose Nonviolence.” (Parents and teachers can educate children on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with help from Scholastic.)

Millions of children in elementary schools have grown up with this annual observance, but the holiday was only observed in all 50 states in the year 2000. Wikipedia has more of that history. In the long campaign for this holiday, a broad coalition of King supporters got a boost from Stevie Wonder with his 1981 song Happy Birthday. Wonder’s lyrics made the case for a national holiday:
You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party
On the day you came to be.

Eventually, 6 million signatures were collected in favor of such a holiday, which was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983. The first national observance was 1986, but some states resisted. South Carolina was the last hold out, but fell in line and gave state workers the holiday starting in 2000.


Americans already have been inspired by the 50th anniversary of the speech in Washington D.C. In our August coverage, we recalled, in part:

Caught in the passion of the moment and the 250,000 onlookers who had come to support the speakers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dropped his papers and ad-libbed a portion of his speech. Nearby, the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Originally intended as “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Dr. King’s words now echo around the world. …  King quoted the Bible, Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, referenced the United States Constitution and current events, before sharing his dream with the crowd.


Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., with Washington Monument in the background

Events commence today from Boston (find events here) to Yosemite National Park (where admission is free today), and around the world.

King—and his long legacy in peacemaking—are a central focus of this year’s Interfaith Peacemakers Month, hosted as a part of ReadTheSpirit. In addition to a newly updated profile of King, the Peacemakers series also profiles inspiring men and women who were inspired by King. Today, you can read about Aung San Suu Kyi and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

This year, The King Center—a living memorial founded by Coretta Scott King and carried on by King’s children—sets focus on nonviolence. The Center has been busy preparing plans for this monumental year, which includes an elaborate 10-day birthday celebration. Last week, more than 1,500 K-12 students gathered at the King Center’s campus for engaging dialogues on nonviolence; college students were engaged on Jan. 17 with discussions on the impact of violence on campus and in the community. (A full schedule of events is available on the Center’s website.) The official theme for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014, via The King Center, will be: “Remember! Celebrate! Act! King’s Legacy of Peace for Our World.”


On July 2, 1964, an act became law under the extremely wordy title: “An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States of America to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.”

It’s far better known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Wikipedia has a substantial overview of the historic act, its passage and its many features. If you’re really fascinated with the twists and turns of this history, the best in-depth history of the act we’ve found online is part of a website about the legacy of U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, a Republican from Illinois who played a crucial role in the final passage of the legislation.


On December 10, 1964, King accepted his Nobel lecture. The Nobel website maintains some terrific resources on King, including a video of his acceptance speech. The next day, on December 11, King delivered his Nobel lecture. In that talk, he said, in part:

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, “Let my people go.” This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story. The present struggle in the United States is a later chapter in the same unfolding story.

He also pointed, in that lecture, to his growing conviction that an equal moral ill was the world’s widespread poverty, which the world’s wealthy were allowing to continue, King argued. He said in part:

The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for “the least of these”. Deeply etched in the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them. The wealthy nations must go all out to bridge the gulf between the rich minority and the poor majority.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)



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Categories: Anniversary

‘I Have a Dream’ echoes as millions recall Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

Fifty years ago today, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

Holidays & Festivals Column Covers This Historic Milestone …

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28: It was a moment so thick with tension, and so opportune for mounting violence, that TIME Magazine voiced what every American seemed to be sensing: “The moment seems to be now.” For better or for worse, America was teetering on the brink of change: conflicts over civil rights were gathering speed at an alarming rate, as police used violent means against protestors and the FBI bugged activists’ phones.

It was in this perilous moment that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the microphone at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and became what TIME Magazine today describes as: “a new founding father” and “the moral leader of the nation.”

I have a dream today!”

Caught in the passion of the moment and the 250,000 onlookers who had come to support the speakers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dropped his papers and ad-libbed a portion of his speech. Nearby, the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Originally intended as “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Dr. King’s words now echo around the world. This week, TIME declares in a special issue on the March and the Speech: “Casting aside his script, King reset every standard for political oratory. Presidents ever since ahve been trying to match his words, power and moral authority.”

King quoted the Bible, Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, referenced the United States Constitution and current events, before sharing his dream with the crowd. Coretta Scott King remarked that it was “as if heaven had come down to earth … like the kingdom of God had descended on the Lincoln Memorial right there in our midst.”

I have a dream today!”

Dr. King’s speech would alter the course of the civil rights movement from that day forward. At the anniversary, from Washington to New Hampshire to Switzerland to Tokyo—bell ceremonies will literally “let freedom ring,” as Dr. King requested at the end of his speech, on this day in 1963.

The ‘Dream,’ the Hopes—and Reality

How did the world change? And how much did it change? By some measures, America and the world changed a lot because of the March on Washington and King’s enduring message. One way to see the global change is to read a series of four short profiles on the origins of King’s peacemaking—and the legacy of his teaching—written by Daniel Buttry.

But in America? In terms of real economic change—one of the central themes of the March—surprisingly little has changed. Gaps remain in some major measures of economic equality across race and ethnicity. Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project, reports on striking new conclusions drawn by the Pew center based on nationwide research.


REP. JOHN LEWIS AND THE COMIC BOOK: Quite a few news headlines and TV reports over the past week have focused on  U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the last remaining speaker from the March. Lewis is prominent in TIME magazine’s special issue. He is especially popular, these days, for becoming the first U.S. Congressman to publish a comic book: The March. Read our separate story today that tells why Lewis agreed to create this historic comic series about the civil rights movement.

NEWS ABOUT KING’S ‘LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL’—Today, Duncan Newcomer reviews Gospel of Freedom, a new book by Jonathan Rieder that tells the story behind King’s most famous letter. Americans also are celebrating the 50th anniversary of that letter, this year.

‘HOW DR. KING ALMOST GOT ME FIRED’—Edward McNulty now is best known as a leading writer on faith and film, but in the late 1950s he was a young pastor and was deeply inspired by King’s message. In a new column, McNulty writes about how that inspiration led him into an unexpectedly tough confrontation.


Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King delivering I Have a Dream speech

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Friend, advisor and lawyer Clarence Jones recently reported in an interview that excitement for the march began when newspapers published Dr. King’s letter to him, from jail—and it was Nelson Rockefeller who met Jones with a bag of $100,000 in cash to bail Dr. King out of jail. Following bail, Dr. King hid in Jones’ home for six weeks before the March on Washington.

Apprehension had been mounting in the weeks leading to March day, and President Kennedy had unsuccessfully tried to thwart the event in talks with civil rights leaders. At the time, a Gallup poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans disapproved of the march, or didn’t think it would accomplish anything. (A USA Today column goes in depth.) Though speakers had agreed they would keep these events calm and orderly, extra measures were taken and thousands of troops were deployed, nearby businesses shut down and the city banned liquor sales.

When the March on Washington proved a success, few Americans had changed their perspective on the civil rights movement. It didn’t take long to sink in, however, and in the wake of the march and speech, King was named TIME’s Man of the Year. In 1964, Dr. King became the youngest person to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2002, the Library of Congress added King’s speech to the United States National Recording Registry; one year later, the National Park Service inscribed words from Dr. King’s speech into the step where he had stood at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.


Inscription on Lincoln Memorial stairs of 'I Have a Dream'

The spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood while delivering his speech is inscribed in his memory. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was 50 years ago when George Raveling, a 26-year-old former college basketball star, was recruited to volunteer at a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Though few could predict the lasting influence of this particular speech, it was Raveling who casually asked Dr. King for the paper copy of the speech, following its deliverance—and it’s Raveling who owns the original paper speech today. (Read the story at CBS News.) Decades passed before the former basketball coach realized the importance of what he kept informally tucked in an autobiography of Harry Truman, and in 1984, the revelation came to light. Raveling says he has been offered $3.5 million for the document—which, ironically, doesn’t contain the words “I have a dream” anywhere—but will never sell it. “The speech belongs to America, the speech belongs to black folks,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t belong to me, and it would be sacrilegious of me to try and sell it to profit from it.” (View the paper copy of the speech at

TIME Magazine has pulled out all the stops for the “I Have a Dream” anniversary, launching a multimedia site——as well as its special issue dedicated to event’s 50th. The multimedia site contains 10 videos, courtesy of Red Border Films, all of which give testimonials from the key people who made the march a success.

In an interview with the UK’s Mirror News, Clarence Jones recalls jotting down several paragraphs of ideas for Dr. King’s speech the night before, many of which King used in his address. Yet what had been planned as a four-minute speech quadrupled in length when, from the crowd, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson inspired King. Variations of the “dream” speech had been heard elsewhere before, but never was it delivered at a more appropriate time—or to a more fitting audience—than on that day in Washington. (Wikipedia had details.)

Celebrants in Atlanta will gather by the thousands this week for the Atlanta Global Freedom Expo, which will showcase storytelling from the ground crew who attended the march; display period entertainment and dance; feature food demonstrations and an open house at Dr. King’s birthplace. (Get more information from The event is free.

“Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesNational Observances