How to Celebrate MLK Day
On April 4, 1968, one of America’s best known Civil Rights leaders was murdered. Martin Luther King, Jr., was known for his leadership in trying to end segregation without resorting to violence. This idea put him at odds with some of the other African American leaders of his time.
One event for which King was popular was a successful boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system, which had previously required black riders to sit in the back of the bus or give up their seats for whites when the bus was full. King persuaded other African Americans to refuse to ride the bus until they allowed blacks the same privileges as whites. He also helped lead as many as 300,000 people into Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. The marchers wanted to convince congress to pass Civil Rights legislation and to bring national attention to the bill.
Soon after King was assassinated in 1968, followers began campaigning to make his birthday (January 15, 1929) a national holiday. But it was not signed until 1983 (Ronald Reagan) and was not observed until 1986. Even then, some states, especially in the south, combined it with other observances. So it was not until 2000 that all 50 states recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Usually, on the first Monday following January 15.
Many educators used to take advantage of the day to teach children about Martin Luther King’s life and goals, about the Civil Rights movement, and about other issues of prejudice today. But now, many schools have the day off from classes. So, how do you celebrate such a day at home with your children? Here are 10 ideas.
- Be active: Many employers recognize the holiday by giving employees a day off of work. But why not use it for a “day on”? In 1994, Congress suggested that people use the government holiday to contribute to community projects. This year, January 19 will be the largest such holiday, with over 12,000 planned service projects. Find one that your family can do here.
- Serve others: Coretta Scott King encouraged Americans to “commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength.” Maybe participating in a planned event isn’t right for your family. But shoveling your elderly neighbor’s driveway might be!
- Read: learn about King’s life, either in a book or online. Or, read his letter from the Birmingham jail, or some other piece of his writing.
- Write: King’s letter from the Birmingham jail is now famous. Follow his example by writing a letter to someone in your life.
- Listen: to one of his speeches, of course!
- Go to a religious service: King was a Baptist minister and got his ideas heavily from the Bible. But in his honor, you could attend any house of worship that supports his idea of treating all people as equally valuable.
- Throw a birthday party: decorate with every color, serve cake and ice cream, play his favorite music (gospel). If you are serving dinner, bring in many different kinds of ethnic foods.
- Attend a parade: Many places, like Lafayette, Colorado, celebrate MLK day with a parade to commemorate the walk on Washington.
- Pray for people who are being persecuted all over the world today for their beliefs, their ethnicity, their race, or many other reasons beyond their control.
- Watch TV?: many stations will play specials on Monday, Jan 19, 2009. Check out the History Channel’s special show, or even watch Oprah!