LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — This year marks the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The holiday gives us a chance to stop and remember the work of not only King, but of all of those who persevered through the Civil Rights Movement to end segregation and improve this great nation.
Starting his career as the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1954, Dr. King quickly became an executive committee member for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples. From this position, he was able to become a leader of the first great, nonviolent protest of its kind during the Civil Rights Movement: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted 382 days during which the African-American citizens of Montgomery found solace in speeches given by King at his Church. During the boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed and he was personally abused. He emerged from the boycott a premier leader, not only within the NAACP, but also within the entire civil rights movement.
Between 1956 and his assassination in 1968, King traveled all over the United States speaking more than 2,500 times. He covered more than six million miles on his journeys, speaking wherever he saw injustice and furthering the cause for civil rights legislation. In 1963, Dr. King organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Ala., one of the primary battlegrounds of the civil rights movements. During the event, dogs and fire hoses were set on the demonstrators and King was jailed. However, the demonstration accomplished its intentions, as the brutality against the peaceful demonstrators drew attention nationwide. While in jail, King outlined his views on nonviolent protest in the famous “Letters from Birmingham Jail” and began planning his most famous speech, to be heard soon after.
Following his release, King and his supporters began planning for a massive, collaborative, peaceful demonstration in the nation’s capital. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in the National Mall. There, King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for the United States to live out its creed and ensure, ‘all men are created equal.’
The march on Washington, D.C., and King’s speech, resonated even in areas where there had previously been little to no racial tension. The Jim Crow Laws and other segregation legislation were suddenly being questioned nationwide. On July 2, 1964, less than a full year after King’s speech, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed major forms of discrimination against minorities.
King continued his nonviolent approach to changing the nation until his untimely death in 1968, ultimately encouraging the passing of multiple laws that helped to end segregation and inequality.
On November 2, 1983, after years of requests for a holiday to commemorate King, President Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law. The day is commemorated on the third Monday in January. In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service — a “day on, not a day off.” The Department of Defense has adopted this theme and the entire holiday weekend is a dedicated weekend of service.
The Southern California, Riverside community is holding it’s 3rd Annual Honoring the Dream Candlelight Prayer Vigil on Monday between 4 and 6 p.m. in the City Hall’s breezway. For further information call 951-288-4375. For events in different cities, search the Internet with: MLK JR 2013 events Southern California. For ideas on how to serve, visit http://mlkday.gov/about/serveonkingday.php
Remember, Jan. 21 is not just a day off of work — it is a day for service.
(Contributions to the article were made by the 452d AMW PA office.)