Today is a national holiday in the U.S. celebrating the life of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. In 1983, Congress voted to create a federal holiday to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winning activist. While many like to have selective memory and pretend that the passage of MLK Day, which is also a national day of service, was an overwhelming slam dunk, the opposite is true.
It was a very contentious debate and a long time in the making. In fact, current senators John McCain (R-Ariz), Richard Shelby (R-Ala), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted against the federal holiday in 1983. On the state level, numerous politicians have voted against recognizing the holiday like New House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against the state version of the holiday twice. GOP members that voted for the holiday include former Vice-President and Wyoming Senator Dick Cheney, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).
Is there any wonder that the first Hollywood film featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a lead protagonist in a feature film occurred in 2014? Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking film is one of many films that have reflected the peace philosophy of Dr. King which included nonviolence, judging people based on their content of their character, not the color of their skin and being of service to all of humankind.
Although many people will be participating in community service projects today, for many it will be business as usual. Instead of passing judgment, we have decided to pass on some information that might be useful to you. Do you want or need to find a service project?
Check out Serve.gov which allows you to enter your zip code and find service projects in your area. If you are actually hosting a fantastic service project, you can also register it there so that people can find you. You can also Tweet @MLKDay with info about MLK Day projects and events.
If you happen to live in Atlanta, Ga, then check out The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change also known as ‘The King Center.’ Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, civil rights activist and wife of Dr. King, the King Center is a global destination, resource center and community institution for over twenty-five years. Nearly a million people each year make pilgrimage to the National Historic Site to learn, be inspired and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy.
The new National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights in Atlanta can also be visited. Much of the collection is dedicated to the civil rights movement in Atlanta, yet also includes information about other states in the United States. There is also an exhibit sponsored by Dr. King’s alma mater, Morehouse College entitled, “Voice to the Voiceless,” featuring pieces from the Morehouse College King Collection. The museum also has an exhibit, “Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement” which features handwritten notes from Dr. King’s speech on Selma, 1965, Dr. King’s Diary from Albany Jail, 1962, a letter from President Lyndon Johnson to Dr. King, 1963 and Dr. King’s address on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
For those traveling to or near Washington, DC, a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial featuring a stone statue of the civil rights icon and clergyman would be amazing. Sculpted by renowned artist Master Lei Yixin, the stunning statue captures the peace activist in a moment of reflective thought. Why not go there and reflect on Dr. King’s philosophies and how they apply to your everyday life?
There are a ton of activities for kids at community centers throughout the country. Boston is a city near and dear to the legacy of Dr. King. It was at Boston University where Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955. Under the guidance of Dean Howard Thurman, Dr. King was introduced to the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and his ideas on nonviolent protest. Boston University refers to Dr. King as their “greatest alumnus” and houses thousands of his personal papers and correspondence, which he personally delivered to the university before his death.
Boston embraces Dr. King’s legacy and creates many events around his memory throughout the year, but especially on MLK Day. Events for kids are being held all over the city. There’s ‘Story Hour and Art Activities’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, children can build a Community Art Mobile at The Children’s Museum in Easton, there’s storytelling and music at Faneuil Hall sponsored by the Mayor’s office, a play at Providence Children’s Museum and a performance by the Boston Children’s Chorus to name a few.
Do a quick Google search and find a MLK Day event to attend with the family. For those who have to work, check out NPR for MLK Day programming. Find out why the feelings of some people are more negative towards African-Americans on MLK Day and how teachers approach MLK Day.
Of course, there’s this little film out now called Selma, which is the first Hollywood feature film with the character of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the lead protagonist. David Oyelowo plays the lead character brilliantly along with strong performances by Carmen Ejogo (Coretta Scott King) and Lorraine Toussaint (Amelia Boynton Robinson). See if your city offers free tickets for high school students and take your teen to see the game-changing film.
For those who don’t want to or cannot venture out of the house, check out a film or two about the era or Dr. King specifically. The award-winning documentaries Eyes on the Prize (1987), Freedom on My Mind (1994) or Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls (1997) . If documentaries aren’t your thing, then check out fictional films like To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring legendary actors Gregory Peck and Brock Peters, King (1978) starring the late, great thespian Paul Winfield, Gandhi (1982) starring Ben Kingsley who won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in the film and Boycott (2001), starring stellar actors Jeffrey Wright and Carmen Ejogo.
There’s a ton of programming on television today. MTV will be broadcasting for 12 hours in black and white in an effort to spark conversation about racial disparities in the U.S. The programming will examine issues of race and feature vignettes by prominent pop cultural figures discussing their views on race.
On MLK Day, there are a lot of opportunities to honor, remember and discuss the man who symbolizes peace, social change and social justice.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning new site The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.