Monday, January 21, 2013, Americans will celebrate two significant occasions that shed a light on recent American history. One occasion is the Second Inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States. The second event is the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a national holiday established thirty years ago when Ronald Reagan signed the much-contested holiday legislation.
The first term and re-election of Barack Obama are fresh on the minds of most Americans. The stories of Martin Luther King Jr. have faded into the deep recesses of Americans’ memories. One way to honor both the President and the martyred leader is to take time on MLK Day to remember the struggles of a time that may seem so very long ago.
An interesting aspect of MLK Day is that the occasion is an open slate – it comes without ritual and deep tradition. At age thirty the holiday is ours to invent for today.
The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 ignited the nation’s cities and exposed for all to see the reality of racism in America. Soon after King’s death his supporters began the long drive to create a national holiday in his honor. The proposal faced a Congressional backlash. Even after the national holiday became the law of the land, individuals and states refused to observe the day.
The story is long and ugly. And it needs to be remembered and told. Some thoughts for memorializing Dr. King and honoring the President on Inauguration Day, a Day that didn’t just happen by chance.
- Talk with those who were there when Dr. King led the fight for civil rights, those who walked the walk to follow Dr. King literally or in spirit.
- Share the story of Dr. King and his impact with children did not experience and cannot fully understand the struggle.
- The story is not an easy one to share. There are books and movies, of course. And there are within the family or the community individuals who may not readily share their vivid memories. These are the parents and grandparents of today’s young people.
- Watch the videos – sing the songs, – listen to the words of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” or read his Letter from Birmingham Jail, or view his funeral on YouTube. Listen to Pete Seeger – or Joan Baez – singing “We Shall Overcome.”
- Connect the dots – how did the story of MLK pave the road for the Inauguration of Barack Obama;
- Talk about the importance of voter rights for which Dr. King fought so hard – what are we doing today to protect those rights.
And, of course, take a young friend or relative to one of the countless MLK concerts and other public programs sponsored by a host of churches, nonprofits, advocacy groups, musicians, writers, community groups and historians.
In short, don’t pass up the opportunity to keep the dream alive.