Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of service, not a day off

2018 marks the 50th year since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, yet through the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday his legacy lives on.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January of each year in honor of celebrating the life and legacy of service and advocacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Proclamation from the Ciity of Tallahassee
Photo credit: Malcolm Sommons II

Rev. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The legislation approval for a holiday in honor of Rev. Dr. King was not passed for another 15 years.

According to Quartz Media, in 1971, the Southern Christian Leadership Congress (SCLC) presented the United States Congress with a petition in support of the holiday honoring Rev. Dr. King. There were over three million signatures and Congress still did not take any action.

Congressman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, reintroduced the proposal four days after Rev. Dr. King was shot on April 4, 1968.

The first federal holiday wasn’t celebrated until 1986. In was 32 years after Rev. Dr. King’s death. South Carolina became the last state in the Union to recognize MLK as an official holiday according to Quartz Media.

The first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated with marches, church services, candlelight vigils, parades and concerts across the country.

Florida A&M University (FAMU) 1974 alumnus Fred Dukes, talked about his experiences when celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and how it was when he was in school.

“Back then a lot of people didn’t even know that Martin Luther King Day was a holiday. Most people treated it as a day off from work. Now in retrospect it’s grown where it is more community wide. Most people understand the history of Dr. King and what he stood and died for.” Dukes explained. “A lot of younger people don’t realize that a lot of people died, sacrificed, and did without. MLK was for everybody not just Blacks. A lot of races benefited from Martin Luther King than a lot of Blacks did. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve made progress.”

On this year’s MLK Day, Jan. 12, Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., the nephew of Rev. Dr. King, spoke about the holiday that celebrates his uncle’s life and legacy. during a speech at the White House. Farris spoke just before President Trump signed a proclamation in honor of Rev. Dr. King. He mentioned that the day’s purpose was to serve others, and should not be a day of hero worship.

“As his nephew, I think that he was one of the greatest Americans that we’ve produced, but it should not be a day of hero worship, and that’s why Congress agreed with my aunt Coretta Scott King, and made it a day of service, so that we on that day, as a matter of fact at the king’s center, we referred to it as a day on not a day off,” Farris said. “It’s not a day to hang out in the park, or pull out the barbeque grill. It’s a day to do something to help someone else… That’s the proper way to celebrate the king holiday.”

Dr. Malinda Jackson James, 67, a resident in Tallahassee, spoke about her experience when celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how she felt when first hearing about his assassination.

“When I was growing up in the era when Dr. King was living and expressing himself, and being involved in the movement, it was so much respect,” James said. “I remember when he was assassinated and I was out on the P.E. field that day, and felt like a part of my family was taken away.”

Dr. James discussed how she was impacted by Rev. Dr. King’s legacy, and what she does to remember him, and help others to remember him as well.

“When I look at it today, one thing that I try to do, because I work a lot with kids, is try to get them to understand what Dr. King did was really relevant for them today, and to believe in themselves, and know that they can do anything,” James said.

Malena Lowe, who is from Quincy, is the operations manager for the Black Archives at FAMU. When asked about her experience when celebrating MLK Day, she said she chooses to serve the community, and join marches or other events that may be happening on that day.

“Pretty much with me in Quincy we’ll have a march and have different tents up and have people talk about the history. Someone will say Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and that’s how I celebrate it, besides sitting at home I go out to march and attend activities that the community may have for MLK, and give my time,” Lowe responded.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “to serve, you only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love” and that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”

To commemorate the national holiday, many people will continue to serve as his legacy of service to ensure that the meaning behind his dream lives on.