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I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Martin Luther King Jr

Everyone should have a hero! Someone to look up to or admire. Someone who is a great role model and who provides inspiration to individuals and the masses. For many people across all parts of the world, Martin Luther King Jr is just such a man. The way he walked on Washington, how he used words instead of fists to try to solve the problems of his day and age, and his tenacity to the very end all made him a person to be admired and followed, whether in his time or beyond.

Some people have a tendency to compare what Martin Luther King Jr. did to the works of Gandhi. The similarities come in using the persistent yet peaceful rebellion against the oppression of a group of people. Martin Luther King Jr Day is the day to celebrate all that this fine man has done for the African American people in the United States as well as humans all around the world.

History of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was created by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, at least that is when the day became official. King’s assassination had remained an important part of American culture in the 15 years since its occurrence in 1968, and Reagan finally felt compelled (after years of campaigning by activists) to make a federal holiday for the United States of America in his honor. This event takes place on the third Monday in January, close to—or sometimes on—the date of Dr. King’s birthday of January 15.

Groups of people organized movements in the 1970s and 1980s were still in motion to elevate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to a federal holiday, which would mandate that government offices would close down in recognition of the lengths King went to and the life he gave to promote true equality and freedom. Arguments against this were primarily based on the fact that Dr. King never officially held any public office for the US government, which is usually a requirement for such recognition.

The struggles King fought to eliminate were still present in 1983 when Reagan declared the day an official federal holiday. This was made evident by the simple and sad fact that it took until 2000 for it to be officially recognized and practiced by all 50 states in the union, in spite of being a presidentially recognized holiday for 17 years prior.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day people gather to celebrate the work he did and the people he elevated through steady, peaceful protests and activism. Children celebrate in schools by learning more about Dr. King and his passions, keeping the flame alive in the fight for equality, justice and freedom for all people.

How to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

A deep appreciation of the work of Dr. King can come from the observance of this important day. It’s a day to be somber when remembering his death, but also a day to celebrate the victories and progress that his life and work brought about. Gather some friends, family or other community members and try out some of these ideas for honoring the day:

Get Involved in the Local Community

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is best done by continuing the work of the man himself, performing acts of service to the local community, various neighbors, and even for the nation.

Throughout this day, attempt to attend events being held at local parks and community centers, and help elevate your awareness regarding equality activism. For instance, attend a parade or other event and stand side by side with those that are still fighting for true equality today.

In 1994, Congress dedicated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of service. The idea is that it should be celebrated as “a day on, not a day off”, making it the perfect day to find unique ways to serve in the local community.

Learn About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the ideal time to get a bit more educated about the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For those who are bookworms, there are hundreds of books about Martin Luther King Jr, revealing the ways he accomplished what he set out to do, how his efforts were sometimes thwarted or interrupted, and how his legacy still lives on for people today.

Others might want to visit a museum to learn more about what King accomplished in his life through educational and interactive exhibits. Many Civil Rights museums offer special discounts or even free admission in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Try out the exhibits at some of these American museums to learn more:

  • National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
    Located in Memphis, Tennessee and an affiliate of the Smithsonian museums, this important space was built around the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It became a museum in 1991 and has been growing and changing to include important artifacts and educational opportunities ever since. Those who can’t visit in person can take advantage of the online virtual tours that are available.
  • Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
    This fairly new museum opened in the city of Jackson in 2017. Installations require visitors to face the names of all of the lynching victims in Mississippi as well as other important topics such as the Jim Crow laws, slavery and the Civil War, and the Delta Blues.
  • Dallas Civil Rights Museum
    Founded in 2014, this Texas museum focuses on topics that are important to freedom-dreamers and change-makers, such as the Underground Railroad and the Trail of Tears. Many exhibits are particularly related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • International Slavery Museum
    This important feature of Liverpool, England’s Albert Dock area focuses on the important history of transatlantic slave trade. The museum, which is part of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, houses one building which, in 2012, was renamed to be called the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Building. The facility includes educational spaces, research facilities, a family history center, theater and collections center.

Watch the “I Have a Dream” Speech

Undoubtedly Dr. King’s most famous speech, the “I Have a Dream” speech was given on August 28, 1963 to a crowd of 250,000 gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. This speech had a direct influence on the US government’s willingness to take action toward racial equality. A copy of the speech can be found at the National Archives at New York City and it can be watched for free on YouTube.

Start Conversations About Martin Luther King, Jr.

Participating in this important day will be even more valuable when it is shared with others in the surrounding community. Whether coming into contact with neighbors and inviting them to attend an event or having an important conversation with coworkers or family members over lunch or dinner, this day should be honored.

Here are a few interesting facts to keep in mind during conversations about the events of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life:

  • When King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, he was one of only 11 black students. King was elected class president in his third year at the school and graduated as valedictorian.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person at the time to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at the age of only 35. The prize came with more $50,000 which he donated to the Civil Rights movement.
  • King is the only person who never served as president to have a federal holiday named in honor of him, and he’s the only non-president with a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
  • An amazingly bright student, King was so talented that he skipped both 9th and 12th grades, allowing him to begin attending college at the age of only 15. He enrolled in Morehouse College in 1944 to study sociology and, upon graduating, he became ordained as a Baptist minister just as his father and grandfather had both been.

Create Activities for Kids

An important way to keep history from repeating itself in a negative manner is by raising children to think of the world in a new way. Teaching them about important people who changed the world, such as Dr. King, is a good way to get them involved and inspired to make the world a better place themselves. Making crafts, coloring pages, writing letters or speeches and other activities are important ways to get kids actively involved in the day.

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