Back in 1929 things were really happening. The stock market cratered and The Great Depression engulfed the world in an economic crisis that lasted for years. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place in Chicago. The first Academy Awards were presented at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The Museum of Modern Art opened to the public in New York City. Born in that year were Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Arnold Palmer, Grace Kelly, Dan Jenkins and Michael King.
Who was Michael King? So, the story goes that when he was born on January 15, 1929, his original birth certificate read “Michael King.” The baby’s father, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., insisted it was a mistake by the attending physician and had the document revised to read “Martin Luther King Jr.”
Perhaps that was just the first sign that the younger King was destined to be associated with change during his 39 years of life. During that time, he became the face and voice of the civil rights movement. What many take for granted today was verboten then. There were “colored” bathrooms and drinking fountains, “whites only” facilities, segregated schools, etc.
Combining his own Christian beliefs and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, King rallied people from all walks of life to bring attention to the then-accepted inequities and make a change using the tools of nonviolence and civil disobedience.
His leadership was recognized not just within the United States; it also earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Just the day before his assassination on April 4, 1968, he gave what many consider to be one of his most memorable speeches — “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
Days later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that legally ended residential discrimination.
In the following years, his widow Coretta Scott King followed in her husband’s footsteps to keep his mission alive. Among the many tributes honoring King, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. As part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed into place that the King holiday would be held on the third Monday in January.
Taking place this Monday, the holiday will mean there will be no postal service and schools and banking institutions will be closed. There will be many occasions to celebrate King’s legacy like the The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture‘s 14th Annual MLK Symposium: Pursuing Racial Justice in 21st Century America. But it will be an opportunity to reflect on how one man led the country to the basic understanding that all people are entitled to the most elementary of civil rights.