The Genesis of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


The massive crowds that attended the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech illustrated the magnitude of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech inspired thousands and continues to this day to ignite people to engage in social action movements.

Jackeline Fernandes, Staff Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on the third Monday of January every year. Although Schreiber students love having another day off from school, not many understand the genesis of the proclaimed day in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor. This year, the federal holiday falls on Jan. 21.

“As he was important civil rights activist, it is important to know how MLK day began,” said senior Zach Gruber.

King was one of the most prominent leaders of the civil rights movement in the U.S. from the mid-1950s up until his death in 1968. His leadership enabled the success of the movement, which led to the end of the legal segregation of African Americans throughout the country, especially in the South.

Born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King followed in his father’s footsteps to become a pastor when he grew up. In 1953, he married Coretta Scott, a singer from Alabama, and they settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where King became a pastor of the Baptist Church.

When Rosa Parks, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus, activists instigated a 318-day bus boycott in protest of segregation in the city.  For this, they elected King as their leader and spokesman.

The boycott was a success, as the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on buses unconstitutional in 1956, and King was immersed into the national spotlight as a leader of nonviolent resistance. This plan of action was heavily influenced by Gandhi’s civil disobedience.

King went on to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom later in 1963. Held in Washington D.C. on April 28 of that year, the peaceful political rally delineated the injustices faced by African Americans across the country and advocated for their civil rights. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech that advocated for peace and equality. Embedded with rhetorical flourishes, King shared his dream of a future.

“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,’” said King in his iconic speech.

The speech earned King his reputation, and in 1964, he was the youngest person in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

For the remaining years of his life, King continued to push for civil rights for African Americans by leading the Selma to Montgomery March and using other nonviolent methods.

On April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot by known racist James Earl Ray on a Memphis motel balcony. Thousands of mourners marched through Atlanta at his funeral behind a wagon carrying his coffin.

The campaign for a holiday in King’s honor began soon after his death by members of Congress and his wife. The federal holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and it was first observed three years later in 1986. It was declared to be on the third Monday of January each year so that it would always fall around King’s birthday, Jan. 15.

The federal holiday is designated a national day of service, urging Americans to engage in community service in honor of King’s commitment to improving the lives of others. Martin Luther King Jr. Day also honors King’s legacy and encourages us to reflect on his dedication for racial equality.

“’It’s great that we have a day representing this great historical figure and the movement that he leas,” said senior Zach Ritholz.

So while sleeping in on MLK Jr. Day this year, remember to appreciate King’s contributions to the civil rights movement, and remember to keep his dream alive.