Honoring the man not the day

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Chapman
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

The third Monday of January observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an annual holiday celebrated since 1986 and while it means a day off for most, it especially highlights the life of the man himself.

Almost everyone knows who is being referred to when hearing ‘I have a dream’ from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech written in 1963. What makes a speech stand out so much to so many? Was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just a great speaker or what it the message and the time in which he said those words?

According to CNN, during the height of his activism, King gave 450 speeches in a year. He showed time and time again that he was not one for violence, but rather change through words and actions, and changes he did make.

In 1955 King joined the Montgomery bus boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat on the bus. This act was the start of the African-American Civil Rights Movement that would continue till 1968. Also, in 1955, King was elected the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was also established by King, gathering 60 black ministers from Atlanta to continue the fight against segregation and racism.

Due to his peaceful attempts to change the world, even after being stabbed, the Prime Minister of India Jawaharial Nehru invited King to continue his study of the nonviolence techniques of Mohandas Gandhi in 1959.

Despite the nonviolent nature of the protests, marches and sit-ins, King was arrested in 1960, and was released by both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. This trend of protest and arrest continues on into 1963 where he was arrested again in Birmingham Alabama, where he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’

With momentum from Birmingham, there begins desegregation of the schools and some businesses. In June over 125,000 followed King on the Freedom Walk in Detroit and in August 250,000 followed him at the March on Washington where he gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. With his support, message and methods of achieving them, it is easy to see why in the same year Time magazine named him Man of the Year for 1963.

King witnessed another milestone in the African-American Civil Rights Movement with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, at the White House in Washington. King continued his trend of protests, getting arrested and marching for issues such as voting rights, housing problems and employment rights.

King was aware that the changes he fought for would make him a target, and in 1968 he was attacked again. At his hotel, King was shot and later died from his wounds.

King was survived by his four children, Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, Yolanda King and Dexter Scott King, and wife Coretta Scott King, but he also left behind a world working its way towards the dream that he had.

“The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality,” said Coretta Scott King.