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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reflection

By Shirley Brown, Economic Security Team Member at Elder Law of Michigan

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approached, I became curious about the history of the making of this American holiday. I began to research and found various materials of interest regarding the background and creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This day, observed on the third Monday of January, celebrates the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and his important contributions as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

While researching the history of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I found some significant information about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a nonviolent activist, leader, and spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement, he protested racial discrimination and worked to promote equal justice for all. Dr. King was often asked to appear at events organized by other activists and speak on their behalf about improving living conditions for working-class and low-income individuals.
  2. Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929. Fifteen years later, in 1944, King followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, enrolling at their alma mater, Morehouse College. Although he was only 15, this early-admission was likely due to King’s gifted nature as a student.
  3. Something I found significant in my research is the Nobel Prize organization recognized Dr. King for his civil disobedience, and his nonviolent campaign to end racism, by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
  4. Just four years after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I learned he was in Memphis, Tennessee to support the city’s sanitation workers. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King gave his well-known I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech at a rally against the poor working conditions and unequal wages of sanitation workers. The next day, while standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King was assassinated.

There is much more information about the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have only been able to include a few of the more significant details, many of which I found in the article I’ve Been to the Mountaintop by Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

Through my research, I discovered many interesting details about the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In 1979, 11 years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., a bill was introduced to Congress to honor him by declaring his birthday a national holiday. I thought it was interesting that there were two main oppositions to the bill. One concern was that people thought the bill would be too costly. The second concern was that many people did not want to honor a private citizen. Four years after its introduction, in 1983, the bill passed through the House of Representatives by a wide margin and was signed into law by President Reagan. Even after the bill became law, states did not start observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day for another three years in 1986. After 1986, it took fourteen more years before every state in the U.S. recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official holiday.

The information above is only a little of what I discovered, and is from an article called In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by the Houston Black Heritage Society.

Tributes and observances are held nationwide celebrating the life of a man who was dedicated to helping make our nation become a more productive and compassionate community of responsible and accountable citizens. Some people use Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of service, volunteering to make a difference in their communities. Many institutions and federal buildings shut down in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

While marches, rallies, and national debates are great ways to start dialogues against modern day human offenses, the most effective way to create change is by electing diverse leaders who will make this country safer and fight tirelessly to pass common sense legislation for all citizens. 

There is much more vital history on the life of Dr. King that I could not cover in this short post. For more information on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., please read these books written by Dr. King:

  • Strength to Love
  • A Gift of Love
  • A Testament of Hope
  • The Measure of a Man

Shirley L. Brown is a member of the Economic Security Team and has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since 2011. As a member of the Economic Security Team, Shirley focuses on assisting clients with benefits applications such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid.