Today, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day, a U.S. national holiday that commemorates the life and death of an American pastor, activist, and leader in the Civil Rights movement. He advocated for non-violent activism in a time when children were separated from one another in schools, people drank from different water fountains and sat on opposite ends of the bus.
However, the bill to pass observance of MLK Day wasn’t an easy one. Former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter supported the idea of observing the holiday, but the bill wasn’t signed into law until 1983 during the Reagan administration. It would take another three years to commemorate the official observance of MLK Day on January 20, 1986.
After reading some of the controversy surrounding the bill to observe MLK Day, I vaguely remember my elementary school not observing the holiday. If anything, my school emphasized President’s Day (honoring George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and all of our U.S. Presidents), which is held in February. And because February was considered African-American History Month, eventually my teachers celebrated both.
As a young student, I had no idea that lawmakers and others were opposed to such an idea of honoring a person who stood up for others who couldn’t stand up for themselves, giving everyone a voice to be treated equally. We honor President’s Day, not just for George Washington, but also for patriotic remembrance. We celebrate the man, but also the work that influenced us as a part of our American cultural history. It’s sad that it took so long for our country to get on board with the celebration of MLK Day.
Thankfully, 28 years later, my son’s school gets to observe the holiday, as he shared stories about what he learned in the classroom – a person who’s legacy has helped us to live a life like Jesus called, treating our neighbors like ourselves.
In Memory of Nelson Mandela
From my hometown to yours,