14 January 2012

Martin Luther King Day - Jan 16

Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday that will fall on January 16 this year. It celebrates the life and achievements of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), the civil rights leader. He is best known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transport and for racial equality in the United States.

This federal holiday is a relatively new one with all states observing it from the year 2000 -- New Hampshire was the last state to observe it. Four days after Dr King’s death in 1968, Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday. Even though Illinois was the first state to adopt Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday in 1973, at a federal level everything was at a standstill. When the bill did not progress, a campaign was started. Following support from the musician Stevie Wonder with his single "Happy Birthday" and a petition with six million signatures, the bill became law in 1983 and Martin Luther King Day was first observed by some states in 1986.

MLK was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. According to him the civil rights movement began when he was six years old. Two of his friends did not show up to play ball and Martin decided to go look for them. He was met by the mother of one of the boys who told him in a very rude tone that her son would not be coming out to play with him ever again because they were white and he was black.

Rev King is probably best known for the speech he gave on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Washington DC Lincoln Memorial. It goes as follows:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

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