We can validate this day off by researching some aspect of Dr. King’s life; perhaps read his letter from a Birmingham Jail, or spend some time thinking about the value of non-violence as a path to action.
In the spring of 1963, Dr. King, then 34 years old, organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. It would protest the Jim Crow Laws; these were specific rules that said Black people had to sit in the back of a bus, black people could not drink from the same water fountain as white people, and could not sit at certain lunch counters. In the course of this peaceful demonstration, Birmingham police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators- all of whom were Black. The development of the television had already changed the face of news, and on the six o’clock news, millions saw those people attacked by dogs and fire hoses.
Martin Luther King went to jail that day and wrote his most famous letter – from A Birmingham Jail. In it Dr. King eloquently spelled out his theory of non-violence:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.”
By the end of the Birmingham campaign, Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters were making plans for a massive demonstration on the nation’s capital composed of multiple organizations, all asking for peaceful change. On August 28,1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, emphasizing his belief that someday all men could be brothers.
“I have a dream that my four 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.”
Largely because our whole nation of TV news-watchers could see what was happening in our own country, the rising tide of civil rights agitation drew supporters from across the land. We were less surprised when the 1964 Civil Rights Act Passed and the Nobel Commission awarded the Peace Prize to Martin Luther King. But badly surprised when, only four years after that, someone shot him.
Dr. King had reminded us that the strong person is the one who can cut off the chain of hate. In terms of reality, he cautioned, “You can’t see straight when you hate.” He did more for this country than one could ever have imagined at the time, and so I enjoy a day to read his work and revel in his successes.