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When you think of Martin Luther King, what are the first things that spring to mind? If you’re like most, you think of someone who made the world a better place, not just for people of color but for all people. You picture someone whose very name is synonymous with concepts like courage, justice, and love. Of course, you think of that incredible “I Have a Dream” speech and everything that it stood for and still does stand for today.
Every third Monday in January, we take time off from our busy lives to celebrate Martin Luther King and everything he did to change the world. Here we’ll take a closer look at the true meaning of Martin Luther King Day and consider some ways you can help make that day more than just a day off from work. We’ll reflect on some of the most important things he taught us and look at some little-known facts you may not have known about Dr. King.
THE ORIGINS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
It goes without saying that Martin Luther King was an important civil rights activist. Not only was he a prime mover in the ongoing push to end segregation in America, but he was a major advocate for using non-violent protest to instigate change. For those reasons and many others, Martin Luther King became the youngest man ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at only 35 years old.
When he was assassinated in 1968, it wasn’t long before a campaign was initiated to turn his birthday into a national holiday as a way to honor everything that he’d accomplished. Eventually, the bill was officially introduced, and the campaign was led by various trade unions. It would be officially endorsed in 1976 and made into an official law in 1986. However, it would take until the year 2000 for Martin Luther King Day to be observed in all 50 U.S. states.
Today, it is a federal holiday that is observed by everyone. Most government departments will be closed on that day, as will many larger corporations. A growing number of smaller businesses are choosing to close their doors to honor the day as well, although many do remain open. In the year 2017, Martin Luther King Day will take place on Monday, January 18th.
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10 IMPORTANT VALUES MARTIN LUTHER KING LIVED (AND DIED) BY
Like all great men, Martin Luther King had many values by which he lived his life. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important ones. This year, honor the memory of Martin Luther King by incorporating the many lessons he taught us.
Martin Luther King believed strongly in the wrongness of all forms of violence, and he stood by those beliefs in a way that’s truly inspiring. Even when he was brutally beaten and attacked by way of police dogs, water hoses, and more, he refused to react or retaliate in a violent way.
Martin Luther King is famously quoted as saying he’d like to go down in history as a “drum major for justice.” He believed in justice as a far-reaching concept, meaning if it existed in one place or aspect of society, it existed in all of them. He also believed that it is the duty of righteous people to confront injustice when and where they find it.
Dr. Martin Luther King was nothing if not astonishingly brave. He believed that until you have something you’re willing to die for, you have nothing to live for. Of course, he proved true to his word and, in doing so, taught us the true meaning of integrity.
King wasn’t just an activist. He was also a Baptist minister who believed strongly in the teachings of the Bible, particularly the part that tells us to “love thy neighbor.” King famously referred to even his worst enemies as neighbors, and he firmly believed that the best way to change minds and hearts was with love.
On a similar note, Martin Luther King believed in the importance of forgiving those who wrong us, even in the face of the worst injustices. To him, it was the only way to make room for true brotherhood.
Martin Luther King understood that it’s never easy to stand up to injustice. He knew that it takes sacrifice and a willingness to suffer for the sake of the greater good. He also proved himself unafraid to do exactly that in the pursuit of his cause.
King believed in a universe created by a loving God that operated on a system of justice. For that reason, he also strongly believed that truth, love, and justice would always prevail in the end.
King believed that a person’s love and inherent humanity is powerful enough to awaken other people’s consciences. He also believed that this is a power each and every one of us not only possesses but should use in pursuit of the greater good.
In the eyes of Martin Luther King, humans were not separate beings who are unconnected to one another. According to him, we are all brothers and sisters. For that reason, he also believed an injustice against any one of us hurts the entire human family on a larger scale.
He also believed in a concept known as “beloved community” that included each and every human. He hoped that one day, people of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds would be able to see each other as family, sitting down together at the “table of brotherhood.”
Last, but certainly not least, Martin Luther King believed that every human being deserves to be treated with respect and absolute dignity for no other reason than that they are human beings.
As we know, Dr. King found the idea of determining a given person’s worth by the color of their skin to be ludicrous. He believed true worth was, and still is, determined by a given person’s willingness to make the world a better place for every man, woman, and child.
How will you honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King this January 18th? How can you stand to better reflect the timeless values he represented? How will you do your part to help bring King’s vision of universal brotherhood to eventual fruition?
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10 INTERESTING THINGS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER KING
Most of us know the basics of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. For instance, we know that he was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, and that he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. We know that he was a dedicated Baptist minister who made astonishing strides when it comes to social justice during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. We may even have a snippet or two of his most famous speeches memorized.
Even so, there’s still quite a bit most of us have never heard about this fearless man. Did you know the following facts?
Martin Luther King was not his birth name.
King was born Michael King Jr. However, his father (who was a pastor) would eventually travel to Germany and gain inspiration from the great Protestant leader, Martin Luther. Dr. King Sr. was so inspired, in fact, that he not only changed his own name but the name of his young son as well.
King was an incredibly gifted student.
Martin Luther King was so gifted that he skipped grades 9-12. As a result, he wound up enrolling at Morehouse College to study when he was only 15 years old. King’s father and grandfather attended the same school.
King held a doctorate in systematic theology.
King would receive his Ph.D. degree in 1955 at Boston University. The degree was in systematic theology, and his dissertation compared the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman in regards to God.
“I Have a Dream” wasn’t his first speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Six years prior to that game-changing speech, King spoke during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957. The speech was on the topic of voting rights and was delivered to between 15,000 and 30,000 people.
King went to jail nearly 30 times.
Dr. King went to jail 29 times. Many of the arrests were for civil disobedience, while others were based on completely trumped-up charges meant to suppress his agenda. The time he was thrown in jail in Montgomery, Alabama for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone is a perfect example of an unfair arrest.
King survived the first attempt on his life.
In 1958, a woman named Izola Ware Curry tried to assassinate King during a book signing by plunging a letter opener into his chest. He would survive after hours of delicate surgery and weeks of convalescence. He would also underscore his dedication to non-violence and forgiveness by publically stating he felt no ill will toward Curry.
His final speech appeared to foretell his death.
The night before he was assassinated, King had this to say to an audience gathered at Mason Temple Church in Memphis:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Many feel that was him foretelling his very own death the following day.
King’s family felt his assassination wasn’t a one-man job.
King’s widow, Coretta, was certain that James Earl Ray had not acted alone. She believed that the government, as well as the Mafia, were also involved and praised a 1999 civil trial jury ruling that said there was indeed a conspiracy at play. A 2000 Department of Justice investigation release would later state there was no evidence of a conspiracy.
King’s mother was also assassinated.
Martin Luther King’s mother would later also die by the bullet. It happened in 1974 when a parishioner would open fire during a church service where Alberta Williams King was playing the organ. The shooter claimed he had received instruction from God to kill King’s father, instead, but went for his mother at the last minute because she was closer.
Martin Luther King is one of only two people whose birthday is a national holiday.
The other person is George Washington.
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4 MEANINGFUL WAYS TO CELEBRATE MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
This year, consider doing something special to honor the memory of the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Get your family, friends, and children involved as well, so you can celebrate together.
Study his life and work.
What better way to honor the principles that King stood for than by reading up on his life and the wonderful work he did? Visit your local library and check out a biography about his life or spend some time on one of the many websites dedicated to his speeches, work, and accomplishments. You can even take things further by reading up on the history, accomplishments, and struggles of African-Americans and other minorities.
Participate in a peace walk.
Did you know that every year on Martin Luther King Day, many American cities commemorate the day with a peace walk? Find out whether or not your town or a nearby city will be one of them. Participate along with your family and friends, if possible.
Participate in the National Day of Service.
The National Day of Service is all about furthering the work of Dr. King by strengthening communities, empowering individuals, and breaking down various social barriers. Look into ways you can get involved and peruse further information at the official website.
Attend a dedicated church service or another event.
King’s strong Christian beliefs were a huge part of who he was and how he lived his life. For that reason, many churches across the nation hold special services to honor his memory on Martin Luther King Day. Even if you’re aren’t religiously inclined, consider attending. It can be a surprisingly wonderful way to honor the day. If you’re not religious, you might be interested to know that many cities also hold non-religious community events to celebrate his life and his vision for the world.
Of course, these are just a few of the many ways you can make Martin Luther King Day special this year. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own ideas and share them with your family, friends, and social circles.