It’s Martin Luther King Jr Day, but do any of us really understand what that means? Sure, classes are out so you have plenty of time to read this, and the library and post office are closed so I have plenty of time to write this, but what does it really mean to any liberal college student?
The holiday itself was signed into law in 1983 by Ronald Reagan, fifteen years after the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner’s unfortunate assassination. Ronald Reagan vehemently opposed the holiday, only signing because it was passed with such an overwhelming majority that it was veto proof.
Arizona, South Carolina and Jesse Helms all opposed the holiday. South Carolina even offering three Confederate holidays that federal employees could celebrate instead of MLKJr Day. In fact, to this day you can still visit Virginia today and celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, which commemorates the life of the Civil Rights leader alongside the leader of the romanticized Confederate General.
When King was shot on his hotel room balcony, the switchboard operator couldn’t be found to make the emergency phone call. They had suffered a fatal heart attack at the news of King’s death. There were over 60 citywide riots throughout the country after the news hit the press.
What could be so unsettling about a federal holiday? What’s so important about this baptist minister and his words?
We’ve all heard excerpts from his I Have a Dream speech, equally famous for its social commentary as its rhetoric, but many still don’t recognize the basic importance of this great man.
I’m twenty-three years old as I write this, and I’ll be twenty-four this October. Martin Luther King Jr earned his Doctorate in Philosophy at Boston University when he was 24. Later that same year, he became a minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. At 26, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott that brought Rosa Parks, Civil Disobedience and Segregation into the national spotlight. At 35, he was the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Integrity and Credibility
Dr King never admitted to being perfect. In the 80s it was discovered that he had plagiarized over a third of his doctoral dissertation. Boston University still found his paper to be of such great scholarly importance to not revoke his doctoral status. Had things gone differently, we’d still call him Doctor King. He had received over 20 honorary doctorates in his 13 year struggle for civil rights.
At his funeral, Dr King gave his own eulogy, the Drum Major Instinct Sermon. In the sermon, he said that he wanted to love and serve humanity, to clothe the naked, to visit prisoners, to be right about war, to feed the hungry and to try and love somebody.
A Loud Bible Thumper
His faith in God was phenomenal, and a case can easily be made saying that without faith, the world would never have had a MLK. But it was an exposure to a different culture entirely that shaped his civil rights strategy. When he visited India, he was able to meet with the Gandhi family. This is summarized best, by his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
Dr King wasn’t just a case of a prominent black figure being in the right place at the right time. He saw injustices in the world, and he set out to correct them. But, by no means did he accomplish this alone; his voice and message empowered millions around the globe.
This Is Where You Come In
It’s a little late for any of us to do anything in the name of the holiday, but at this point you should understand that a day off is not what the holiday is about.
- It’s about NOT sitting back and allowing things to continue.
- It’s about making a difference using the voice God/Evolution gave you.
- It’s about peace for everybody, not just liberal college students or rich, old, white men.
Find something you want to do with your life, anything at all. Give yourself an adequate timespan to do it. Find out all the little tasks and subgoals that make up the larger one. Then, and most importantly, do them.
Personally, I’m giving myself a year to clean up my drug problem.
(Why not end on a joke?)