Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
In honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, holiday, I invite us all to read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (The Letter), as well as view his speech entitled “The Other America.” Whether you are a novice to Dr. King or an established scholar of his work, today’s holiday marks a fitting occasion to engage with these two pieces. Their content and context for understanding and addressing today’s condition of the United States is ripe as we determine what will be our activism for equity, inclusion and social justice.
Reverend Dr. King had strategy, commitment, and integrity in his activism. He also continued to grow throughout his work. On April 16, 1963, Dr. King wrote The Letter from which many of his often cited and lauded statements are pulled including “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” However, the Letter offers so much more. In addition to outlining the factual case for immediate equality and engaging with new political administrations, Dr. King described the four steps used in his nonviolent campaign strategy to fighting injustice including: “collection of facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”
Further, on April 14, 1967, Dr. King delivered the speech entitled The Other America at Stanford University. This speech as an example of the evolution of Dr. King’s activism and understanding of inequality within the United States as he pursued the Poor People’s campaign.
The late Congressman John Conyers first introduced the legislation to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday four days after Dr. King was violently murdered on April 4, 1969. It would take 14 years of persistent activism for the federal law to be passed, three more years to be enacted, and another 14 years before being recognized in some version by all states.
It is not without irony that Dr. King’s holiday occurs during the week of the upcoming presidential inauguration; an event that has been marred by threats of violence, and imbued with great hope. Violence, injustice, and inequity have long existed within the United States, as have activism for equity, inclusion, and social justice. Whatever your approach to achieving social justice, there is much to learn from Dr. King’s strategies, commitment, and integrity. Today I urge you to take the time to explore Dr. King’s pieces rather just reading popular quotes or allowing oft heard speeches to exist as background noise. Take the time to interrogate Dr. King’s and your own understanding of inequity, social justice, and activism, as we collectively salute his work and his legacy.