MLK Day: more than just a three day weekend

Natalee Navarro

Martin Luther King Jr. remains the most influential and well-known civil rights activist today. The nation and the world recognizes him for seeking racial equality for African Americans, people at an economic disadvantage, and all victims of injustice through peaceful protests. Recently, the United States just celebrated our 36th Martin Luther King Day, which always falls on the third Monday of January. Everyone can agree that getting a day off from school is amazing, but it’s important to recognize why we get this day off and to use the days that follow to reflect on what he had accomplished to better our nation. 

An extremely important victory for King was his involvement in the peaceful non-violent protest against Montgomery Alabama’s segregation laws. This started when an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. As part of the Jim Crow laws, the front of the bus was reserved for white people exclusively. She was arrested, causing a public outcry, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott where the black citizens of Montgomery had refused to ride on the city’s buses.

The leader of this boycott was King who, at the time, was just a Baptist minister that heavily endorsed peaceful protesting against the mistreatment of black Americans. The boycott lasted for 385 days and during this time King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to abuse and threats. The protest ended on December 20, 1956 with the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. 

King was instrumental in organizing the Great March on Washington in 1963. Over 250,000 people participated, making it the largest political rallies for human rights in the history of the United States. The March on Washington paved the way for other marches and contributed to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. During this protest, Martin Luther King delivered his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech. In this piece he expresses his opinion toward the mistreatment and harassment of black Americans, along with the ideology of ending race supremacy.

His frustration was very apparent, as it was filled with raw emotion, in which he longed for equality. Personally, I believe that “I Have A Dream” is the most defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement due to the sheer emotion it provoked in listeners across the country. It urged people to want to take action and to seek change. 

On March 21, 1965, King led thousands of peaceful protesters from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama on a 5 day, 54 mile march to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery to present a petition regarding voting rights to Gov. George Wallace. This is known as the Selma to Montgomery March and it has become a landmark in the American Civil Rights Movement. Just 5 months later Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and 36th president Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. 

On October 14, 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, making him the youngest recipient at the time. 

Martin Luther King was led to Memphis in 1968 for the Sanitation Workers’ Strike. In 1968 King was building the Poor People’s Campaign to advocate for underprivileged Americans of diverse races. The sanitation worker’s movement happened to be exactly what he was looking to help with because of its link between economic and racial injustice.

Two blue collar workers of color were brutally crushed and killed by their truck while on break. The city refused to provide compensation to the victim’s families and this sparked outrage within the workers. They decided that they were not going to be taking any more of this mistreatment on top of how little they were getting paid for vigorous labor. During King’s speech to 25,000 people in Memphis he assured the workers that they deserved more for their hard work saying, “whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.” 

Just 5 days after his march and speech in Memphis he returned to give his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The next day, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. His death brought deep sorrow across the nation. His wife Coretta Scott King and people that worked alongside King were persistent, and continued to fulfill his wishes of bringing justice to the workers. On April 16th, the city had agreed to raise wages for African American workers and to recognize the worker’s union, thus adding to Martin Luther King Jr.’s list of accomplishments. 

On January 20, 1986, the first MLK Day was celebrated after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill in 1983. We recognize him every year for his fearless leadership and passion to what he dedicated his life to – changing the world. His leadership continues to affect civil rights movements in the present and his work inspires many people of the younger generations politically and socially. It’s important to uphold what he fought for, not just on the third Monday of every January, but every day of the year.