Growing up in India and Oman, I knew of this person named Martin Luther King who was famous in America because he fought for the rights of black people in the country. He gave speeches everywhere and the black community held him in high esteem. He did a lot of work to promote equal rights for black people in society. His famous speech was "I have a Dream"...then one day he was shot and the world mourned his loss. This is literally everything I knew about him/learned at school until I moved to the US at the age of 25. I expected more out of MLK Day in the US other than it being a holiday for government employees and a few people mentioning him on the news. This resulted in some reading up on him and his story to understand the true importance of MLK Day here in he U.S and globally. Here’s a note from contributor Shannon Luders-Manuel on this day and how people can learn more of his efforts and legacy…
For many Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is just a three-day holiday celebrating a black man. They may know that Martin Luther King Jr. was instrumental in the civil rights movement, that he gave a famous speech called “I Have a Dream,” and that he was assassinated. Some, as witnessed in Jimmy Kimmel’s “Lie Witness News – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Edition,” know much less than that. So who was MLK, and why is this holiday so important?
My parents instilled in me the importance of Martin Luther King from a young age. My white mother bought me the early reader book Meet Martin Luther King, Jr., and my black father had me watch the PBS civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize. But even I need brush-ups on what exactly this great man did.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister who organized the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was the first major protest in the civil rights movement. The boycott was in response to the Jim Crow laws, which separated blacks and whites in all common areas, including buses. Black passengers were relegated to the back of the bus, and many were required to stand for lack of room. Not giving up a seat was grounds for arrest.
King continued his activism, leading the March on Washington in 1963, at which he gave his famous speech to an audience of about 250,000 people. The march was instrumental in the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made segregation illegal in public places. All during his activism, King faced serious threats of death. He was incarcerated, segregationists bombed his home, and the FBI wiretapped his phone lines. In 1968, a man named James Earl Ray assassinated King while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ronald Reagan created Martin Luther King Jr. Day during his presidency, though it wasn’t officially observed in all 50 states until the year 2000. It is also observed in Hiroshima, Japan; is officially recognized in Toronto, Canada; and is celebrated in The Netherlands.
Where to Learn More about King and Celebrate MLK Day
Shannon Luders-Manuel is a freelance writer and editor in Los Angeles, with bylines in The New York Times, Real Simple, and The New York Daily News, among others. She authored Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide: Educators' Guide.
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