Dr. King’s Battles are Ours, too

The History Files 1.17.22 – The History of Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

Why do we celebrate this man, Martin Luther King Jr., alongside of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington with a federal holiday? Let’s lean in and see…

Most of us will have to image living in the days of segregation – when blacks (including other non whites) and whites were, by force and law segregated.

“Segregation = the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment.”

Oxford dictionary

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dr. King

But such were the days in America, with tensions peaking in the 1950’s.

In 1954, The Supreme Court of the US ruled in the famous Brown vrs. Board of Education of Topeka, KS, that establishing segragated schools was unconstitutional. This decision therefore called for the desegregation of all schools throughout America. But this desegration decree would take time, not only in schools but in the nation.

Meanwhile, at Boston University, the 25 year old, exceptional, intelect and fervent Bible scholar, Martin King was working on his Ph.D in Theology, having received his undergraduate degree in Sociology in 1948 from Morehouse College, and having also become valedictorian of his Seminary class in 1951.

During this time King met and married Coretta Scott and they eventually had 4 children together. He became Pastor of Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

It was also during this time, in 1955, that a 42 year old woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give over her bus seat (which was in the front row of the “colored” section) to white men who were standing. She was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. In a 30-minute hearing, they called her trial, she was found guilty, fined $10. along with the $4. court fee.

Rosa Parks

It was then, (1955) that the NAACP (National Accosication for the Advancement of Colored People) chose Martin Luther King to lead a boycott of the transit system in Montgomery. Which he did, and within a short time, 60 other ministers joined him and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which coordinated nonviolent protests of all kinds, and giving the civil rights movement a voice.

Despite threats to his life and his home being bombed (no one was hurt), King pleaded for nonviolent solutions to the nations racial tensions. His earliest Washington DC speech at the Lincoln Memorial called for equal voting rights and a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He met with US Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Prime Ministers Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nehru of India and other notable figures. He also appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

King served jail sentences, false charges, (and true charges) and in April of 1963 he wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Here’s an portion:

from MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

He led peaceful, protest marches in Selma and avoided conflict with the state troopers, in Birmington, Alabama where he marched to end segregation at lunch counters. It was his march and rally in Washington DC, where he gave his famous ” I Have a Dream” speech in 1968, that was attended by over 200,000 peaceful people.

Selma
lunch counter sit in

But it was in July of 1964 that noticable progress was evidenced, when President LB Johnson signed into law the “CIvil Rights Acts of 1964. In it, it outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Not a bad year so far, but it was capped by receiving the Nobel Peach Prize in Oslo, on December 10, 1964. In addition, that year he was named “Man of the Year.

signing the Voting Rights Act

During the later part of 1964, King became critical of the FBI’s faiure to support civil right workers, and was denounced by the FBI Director (J. Edgar Hoover) as “the most notorious liar in the country”. Subsequently, Hoover called the SCLC a Communist group.

In his final year of life, 1968, he led another march in support of sanitation workers in Memphis. This became violent and Dr. King had to be escorted away. The next month, on April 3, 1968, King delivers his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”.

On April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his Memphis Motel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.

What resulted was an outbreak of violence and a manhunt for the shooter. James Earl Ray was tracked down in London, (his fingerprints as evidence found on the rifle used) while seeking a flight to Belgium. He was extradited to the US, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

It was President Ronald Reagan, in 1983, that signed into law, that the third Monday of January be set aside to honor Baptist minister, Civil Rights leader, and Activist – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Dr. King
Dr. King’s monument in Washington DC

May we have the courage, and resolve of this man to speak up for injustices and act on them peacefully, nonviolently and in mass. May we not allow anyone’s well intentions to again divide us, separate us and segregate us from our one human family with the inalienable rights of life, and liberty for all.

May we live out his dream and not cease to battle his battles.

Cheers to you,

Debbie

Sources:

NationalDaycalendar.com/MartinLutherKing/holiday

thekingcenter.com/about Dr. Martin Luther King

Britannica.com/MartinLutherKing

History.com/The interesting history of Dr. Martin Luther King

Usatoday.com/TImeline: The Life of Martin Luther King

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