Although primarily celebrated in the US, Martin Luther King Day renowned across the world as a symbol of hope by oppressed minorities. Today, 15 January, marks both the official birthday of the late King and the celebration of his life and what it represents.
All US states will be celebrating the American civil rights movement and the impact King had on the United States. Some people however have commented that it seems King’s work has been undone by the current US president Donald Trump.
Observed in the US on the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King Day recognises the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. He was, by many accounts, an influential American civil rights leader.
He is most well-known for his movements to end racial segregation on public transport and for racial equality in the United States. The day commemorates and promotes equal rights for all people in the US.
As the day is a federal holiday, non-essential government departments and many corporations are closed. Some schools and colleges close. Those remaining open, mark the day by teaching students about Martin Luther King’s work and the struggle against racism and racial segregation.
Arizona and New Hampshire observe Civil Rights Day at the same time, with Idaho combining it with Human Rights Day. Federal legislation encourages people to spend time on this day volunteering in citizen action groups.
King’s most famous address, the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, called for an end to racism, civil and economic rights. It became a defining moment of the US civil rights movement.
He was an advocate of non-violent protest, calling it the ‘guiding light of our movement’. During the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, King decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life.
Non-violent way of life
He reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. This was due to his understanding of how non-violence could become a way of life.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in America in 1964. At the age of 35, he was the youngest person ever to receive the award.
On 4 April 1968, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray. The small-time criminal killed King with a single rifle shot as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Shortly after King died, a campaign was started to make his birthday a holiday, so he could be honoured. Trade unions led the campaign for the federal holiday after the first bill was introduced.
After Stevie Wonder supported the holiday with his single ‘Happy Birthday’, a petition gathered six million signatures. Since then, a bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
The day was first observed in 1986, but was not celebrated by all states until 2000.