MONDAY, JANUARY 17: This is a landmark anniversary: Twenty-five years ago, in 1986, the United States first observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Why do we celebrate? King struggled to help America come closer to its founding ideals—and he also had a global impact that we celebrate today. King learned from other peacemakers in distant lands, his strategies drawing on the wisdom from a larger family tree of peacemakers. And, King’s legacy continues to touch lives around the world in the midst of ongoing struggles for peace and justice. Read about King’s far-reaching influence in this excerpt from Dan Buttry’s book “Interfaith Heroes 2.”
MLK 25 Challenge: A National Focus on Service
While many will be remembering King’s courageous campaigns, the U.S. government is calling all citizens to take the remembrance one step further. To mark this quarter-century anniversary of the holiday, the MLK 25 Challenge calls all able citizens to pledge at least 25 actions during 2011 that will make a difference for others and strengthen communities. (More is at MLKDay.gov.) To kick off the weeklong MLK 25 Challenge, you can check out the King Legacy of Service 25th Anniversary video, also at MLKDay.gov. (The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve.) The anniversary video explains how Dr. King’s birthday became a national day of service, and interviews with civil rights leaders highlight the necessity of public service in everyday life. (A friend, lawyer of and advisor to Dr. King wrote an article in the Washington Post yesterday. Read her reflections here.)
The establishment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has a lengthy, tumultuous history: What began as a promotion by labor unions was greeted by strong oppositon from many quarters across the U.S. Soon, though, millions of Americans made their desires known when rallies supported Dr. King, Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 for the King campaign and 6 million people signed a petition to make Dr. King’s national holiday a law. (Wikipedia has details.) Ronald Reagan officially signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986.
Dr. King’s day isn’t created equal in all U.S. states, however. It wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states officially observed the holiday, and some states still refer to the third Monday in January as “Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day.” In most of the United States, this is a school holiday, but fresh controversy has arisen this year in some Southern districts where schools will be in session. In those cases, administrators argued that they have had too many bad-weather cancellations already this year; frustrated families and community leaders say they may keep their children home despite educators’ plans. It was unclear on Sunday how many districts might be affected across the South.
Dr. King is honored in other parts of the world: In Toronto, many residents honor his day and, in Hiroshima, a special banquet is held at the mayor’s office. It’s possible to circle the world touring various sites that honor King in some way—including a forest named for him in Israel. When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he addressed the entire global community about moral challenges in the future.