Every year on the third Monday of January, the country comes together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., known as one of the most prominent leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a nonprofit founded by Dr. King's family following his death to be a global resource for social impact, gave this year’s celebration a theme,“It Starts with Me: Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.” Across the country, multicultural centers, museums, nonprofit organizations, and individuals are coming together to put on events that honor the belief system that followed Dr. King.
Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American activist and Baptist minister who served as one of the cornerstone leaders of the Civil Rights movement from 1955 to his assassination in 1968. Inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led targeted nonviolent resistance actions against Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination. Among his many achievements, he oversaw the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington. During the March, he delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, calling for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. In 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequity with nonviolent tactics. Due to initiatives put in motion by the Civil Rights movement, crucial legislative victories soon arrived in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee as he was planning to launch a national Poor People's Campaign to highlight systemic racism's effect on economic disparities between people of color and their white counterparts. His death sparked national mourning, riots across the country, and eventually posthumous honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003.
What is MLK Day?
MLK Day is a day set aside to honor Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday of January each year in America. MLK Day was first observed in 1972, four years after King's assassination in 1968, as a result of the efforts of Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who had campaigned for a holiday in King's name, and John Conyers Jr., then an unknown U.S. Representative from Michigan, who introduced legislation in Congress. In the beginning, many states resisted observing the holiday. However, in 2000, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed by all 50 states for the first time when it became a federal holiday.
Five Unique MLK Day Celebrations Across The U.S.
Prospect Park Alliance’s Day of Service: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York
From 10am to 1pm on Monday, January 16th, join Prospect Park Alliance in their efforts to clean up the area around the Music Pagoda in “Brooklyn’s Backyard.” In commemoration of Dr. King, volunteers will find themselves placing wood chips, removing litter, raking leaves, and more. Additional information can be found here.
37th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March
Harriet Tubman Memorial, West 122nd Street & Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York
Every year, eighth grade students from Manhattan Country School take to the streets in memory of Dr. King to speak on what they consider the most important civil rights issues right now. Eighth grade students are the oldest in the school, and as such, they plan the entire event: from the speakers to the route of the march, these students organize it all. Read about their plan here.
The King Center’s Events
The King Center and Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia
The historic King Center has been holding their annual King Day Community Service Project, this time collecting items for those facing homelessness. Monday, The King Center is hosting their Beloved Community Commemorative Service with keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson– founder and executive director of The Equal Justice Initiative– and Dr. Bernice A. King – CEO of The King Center and daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. The event will be hosted in-person at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Also don't forget to check out Atlanta's National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is hosting a full day of activities for families to honor Dr. King's legacy. The Center is permanently home to "Voice to the Voiceless," selections of Dr. King's personal archive from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. collection. Researchers and the public alike can find some rare items in its catalogue.
King Day 2023: ‘MLK: Legacy of Service'
California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California
Rain or shine, the California African American Museum is hosting in-person ‘King Day 2023’ festivities: opening at 11am with a ‘study group’ discussion about one of his speeches, followed by storytime with the Los Angeles Public Library featuring children’s books on Dr. King, finaled with The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles ends the day with their beloved musical tribute to Dr. King.
The DuSable Museum’s King Day
The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, Chicago, Illinois
Beginning at 11am, the DuSable Museum and Education Center in Chicago will be hosting a day of events to commemorate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The museum will have a Pop-Up Civil Rights Exhibit for visitors to learn about the movement; children’s stories will be told in the morning, followed by a taping of elders’ stories about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, and social justice.
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Featured image: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington, courtesy of National Geographic