Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

by Paula Newton January 18, 2016
Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin led the team who created the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Statue. Image via Huffington Post.

Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin led the team who created the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Statue. Image via Huffington Post.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born 87 years ago on January 15. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The civil rights leader accomplished a lot and changed the country’s mindset during those 39 years.

But it wasn’t until 1983 that President Ronald Reagan signed the MLK Day into law, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states, including Texas, resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. It wasn’t until 2011 that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Statue (pictured above) in Washington, DC was open to the public by the National Park Service.

In fact, just last year, State Rep. Donna Howard put forward a bill to replace Texas’ Confederate Heroes Day with a springtime Civil War Remembrance Day (both to celebrate all Civil War soldiers and to move it away from National MLK Day). Reta Brand, director of the Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose, would have none of it, reported the Houston Chronicle. “We had Confederate Heroes Day before there was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, why can’t they change theirs?” Brand asked. “I have no problem with them both being celebrated on the same day because most of the people who celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day don’t celebrate Confederate Heroes Day.”

Wow. They have their holiday and we have ours.

For those who think the holiday’s relevance has waned in the almost half-century since Dr. King’s death, consider that the Black Lives Matter movement has called to “Reclaim MLK.”:

In an election year that is sure to be full of capitulation and disappointment, we must #ReclaimMLK and what it means to honor that legacy. Let’s continue what we began in 2015—ensuring that MLK weekend is forever known as a time of national, visible resistance to injustice.

Or consider that Dr. King sounds very much like a certain Democratic Presidential candidate, when he urged Americans to “move toward a democratic socialism.” King also explicitly linked the problem of capitalism with the problem of racism. “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” he argued in a speech at Riverside Church in 1967.

Also consider that many call MLK Day “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service” in honor of Dr. King’s statement, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

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