January 19 is celebrated as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the USA. In 1971 only a handful of American states were commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. It was in 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill for a federal holiday to honor King. Thus the day was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. Later, in 1992 President George Bush declared the holiday be observed on the third Monday of January each year, closer to King’s birthday on January 15. Subsequently on January 17, 2000 for the first time Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all fifty states. It is one of four United States federal holidays that commemorates an individual person!
Martin Luther King Jr. as many of us are aware was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement in USA. He successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. It was actually in 1968 after his assassination that a campaign was started for a federal holiday to honor him. It is interesting to make note that the city of Hiroshima in Japan also celebrates the day, with the mayor holding a special banquet to observe peace and to honor King and his message on human rights. Today, the world over Martin Luther King continues to inspire all of us working on human rights.
Martin Luther King is well known all over the world for his famous “I Have a Dream” 17-minute speech that he delivered in Washington DC on August 28, 1963 on the occasion of the March organized to draw attention at the desperate plight of Afro-Americans in southern U.S. Organized in the Capital of USA, right before the seat of power – King’s speech shared concerns and grievances of the suffering of the people. “I Have a Dream” is regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
The March and King’s speech actually helped in putting civil rights at the top of the agenda of the reforms that were taken up in the US. It would not be incorrect to state that this facilitated the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Interestingly in 1984, the original typed copy of the speech with Dr. King’s handwritten notes on it was found to be in possession of George Raveling, first African-American basketball coach in University of Iowa. The 26 year old Raveling, standing close to the podium impulsively asked King for the copy of the speech. He got it!
Here is the famed “I Have a Dream” part of the speech –
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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 the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little 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.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.”