Day for equality

Just four days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by a sniper’s bullet on a terrible April day in 1968, legislation was introduced to create a federal holiday to honor him. When the bill became bogged down by political maneuvering, petitions containing six million names endorsing the holiday were submitted to Congress.

After that first attempt, Congressman John Conyers and Rep. Shirley Chisholm resubmitted King holiday legislation each session. Pressure to honor King mounted from huge civil rights marches in Washington, D.C., in 1982 and 1983.

Congress did pass the holiday bill in 1983. The people made it happen.

But there were still roadblocks. King’s birthday on Jan. 15 was considered too close to Christmas and New Year’s Day. A compromise was made by moving the holiday to the third Monday of January. Finally, more than 15 years after the bill was first introduced, on Jan. 18, 1986, the country had its first day to celebrate King.

An editorial in this newspaper written for that first holiday in 1986, asked “How do we celebrate King and his legacy?” Parades and fireworks? No. It suggested instead that Dr. King would have hoped that we honor his memory with actions that would reflect his dream for equal rights for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. The editorial went on to say:

“In big and little ways, we can continue the work of the man who had a dream by treating those we work and live with equally and with respect. In a world where many inequalities exist, where war seems a constant, we can express our viewpoint, take part in peaceful protest and work to correct inequities.”

The best way still to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to consider how we can help make his dream a reality for all.

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