Today is a holiday and the first to honor an African American. Former President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and legislation was signed in 1983 to create this federal holiday. It took until 2000 to be recognized by all 50 states as a state government holiday, though states are not required to observe it or any other federal holiday. In fact, Alabama and Mississippi have a joint “King-Lee” day to honor both Dr. King and General Robert E. Lee. (newsweek.com) And, New Hampshire was the last state to adopt it as a paid state holiday in 1999, replacing the state’s optional Civil Rights Day. (fortune.com)
So, this day celebrates Martin Luther King Jr., who was an American Baptist minister and activist. Dr. King became the most visible spokesman and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Dr. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. He attended Booker T. Washington High School, and in 1948 earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, followed by studying at the multi-denominational Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where King was drawn to the school’s unorthodox reputation and liberal theological leanings. From 1951 to 1955, he studied at the Boston University School of Theology, which is the oldest theological seminary of American Methodism, earning his doctorate in 1955. It’s interesting to note that Boston University is the largest private research university in New England, and it is one of 13 theological schools maintained by the United Methodist Church. (Wikipedia)
This day is one of service. Days of Service help to raise awareness, mobilize volunteers, and provide individuals with an opportunity to engage and build new connections, and help nonprofits (like Wide Horizon) find support for their programs. The MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.” The Reverend King said,
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” (aascu.org)
Reverend King gave many speeches and sermons. He said the following in a sermon, “Love has within it a redemptive power. There is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says…’love your enemies.’” (A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.)
King wrote several books, including: I Have a Dream (1963), Strength to Love (1963), Why We Can’t Wait (1964), Where Do We Go from Here (1967). Also, there are a number of films about King, including: MLK/FBI (2020), I Am MLK Jr. (2018), King in the Wilderness (2018), Selma (2014).
Dr. King said in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” And he also said in light of unconditional love, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” (Where Do We Go from Here, 1967)
I recently reread a January 2021 issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, wherein were several quotes from distinguished individuals. Here are several:
- “[Martin Luther King Jr. Day] is not a black holiday; it is a people’s holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.” – Coretta Scott King, 1983
- “This man [Martin Luther King Jr.] spoke to my soul. I think in some way, he was saying to me, ‘You can do something. You can make a contribution.’” – Congressman John Lewis, 2013
- “It was [Dr. King’s] efforts that not only freed Blacks, it freed Americans. … It was something he did for all America.” – Colin Powell, General and Secretary of State, 2018
- “As Dr. King told us, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ and this remains our great unfinished business. Just as we celebrate the progress he helped inspire, we recommit ourselves to our unfinished work – defending the dignity and equality of all people.” – President Barack Obama (44th), 2015
- “When we look in the mirror, we will agree that we are a great country, flawed though we may be, but we have to fight for the best of who we are. And that’s what Dr. King, I think, wanted us to do.” – Sen. Kamala Harris, 2018 (1st woman Vice President)
Certainly Dr. King was not humanly perfect, for most or all people are too complex, but he attempted to make the United States and therefore the world a better, more loving place for all to live. This is commendable to say the least.
For many years I’ve collected quotes of various contemporary and historical figures. Here are some from Martin Luther King Jr.:
- “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
- “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
- “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
- “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
- “The time is always right to do right.”
So, for me, I believe these, particularly at this time the last one listed, with all my heart!
D. Brian Boettiger