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

ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine has lots of resources for reflecting on Dr. King’s life and legacy …

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

 

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Categories: National Observances

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Americans lend a hand in honor of Dr. King

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Man and dark-skinned boy digging shovels into dirt while others look on

Volunteer to serve others in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Rachel Feierman, Courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JANUARY 19: Serve the community, learn more about civil rights and remember a legendary life on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. An American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January annually brings the celebration of the pivotal figure in American history. During his lifetime, King worked ceaselessly for the civil rights movement and nonviolent activism. Following his assassination in 1968, a campaign for a federal holiday in King’s name began circling almost immediately. Fifteen years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. Today, Americans are urged to honor the “King Day of Service” by spending the day doing something Dr. King viewed as unparalleled: serving others.

AN INSPIRING RESOURCE—Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers project has published this inspiring story about Dr. King’s life. Readers are welcome to republish and share Buttry’s story about King with friends.

PASTOR AND ACTIVIST:
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in suit with microphones, speaking outdoors

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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, several 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.

KING DAY OF SERVICE:
A NATIONWIDE CALL FOR ACTION

Federal legislation to transform Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a national day of service was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Since that year, millions of Americans have volunteered their time on the third Monday of January, in efforts to help communities across the nation.

Interested in volunteering? Find a Toolkit to plan your Day of Service, or register an event, at NationalService.gov. Also, find free lesson plans for grades K-8, or share your volunteering experiences at Serve.gov.

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Categories: National Observances

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.

‘DREAM’ ANNIVERSARY

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.

KING HOLIDAY

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.”

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT ANNIVERSARY

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.

NOBEL ANNIVERSARY

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 www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

 

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Categories: Anniversary