MLK day is a federal holiday in the USA celebrated on the third Monday of January. King was the foremost support of political and social activism during the civil rights movement during the 1960’s. MLK was assassinated in 1968, after which the campaign for a holiday in his name was started by Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan who introduced the concept. After much debate and support form Coretta Scott King (wife of MLK), President Ronald Reagan finally signed the holiday into law in 1983.
This is the story of the evolution of MLK, a story riddled with racism.
Not until 2000, when South Carolina finally conceded and signed a bill officially celebrating MLK day as a paid holiday, was the holiday officially celebrated in all 50 states. Until that time, the holiday was given different names or celebrated in conjunction with another holiday.
From Wikipedia, MLK shared holidays:
- In Alabama: “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday”.
- In Arizona: “Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day”.
- In Arkansas: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee’s Birthdays”.
- In Idaho: “Martin Luther King Jr.–Idaho Human Rights Day“
- In Mississippi: “Martin Luther King’s and Robert E. Lee’s Birthdays”.
- In New Hampshire: “Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day”. Was “Civil Rights Day” until 1999.
- In Virginia: it was known as Lee–Jackson–King Day, combining King’s birthday with the established Lee–Jackson Day. In 2000, Lee–Jackson Day was moved to the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday in its own right.
The key states in this list to consider are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia – all of whom currently celebrate or have previously celebrated confederate generals on the same day. To celebrate a confederate general and a civil rights leader on the same day is contradictory.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, two famous Confederate Army generals, led the army that aimed to protect the institution of slavery and prevent black people from voting and obtaining other basic human rights. MLK led the fight for civil rights, which ended employment (1964) and housing (1968) segregation based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”
Holidays are symbols for periods of history that we look to celebrate and remember. To do so for the institution of slavery is morally deficient and an insult to all those who have ever faced discrimination.
Additionally, to celebrate both on the same day is to distract from the accomplishments and sacrifices made by civil rights leaders in the name of equality. It is a political tool and diminish the significance of the achievement. At the forefront of the opposition stood North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Helms, who many have considered to be a segregationist, claimed that a paid federal holiday would be to great of a financial detriment to the country. He also claimed, during his filibuster of the bill, that MLK supported “action-oriented Marxism and other radical political views.” It is visible that his arguments were not based on fact, but based on racist motivations. Similar sentiments still exist in the states that celebrate Lee and MLK on the same day.
I hope in the near future the celebration of confederate symbols ceases and MLK is given the full respect he deserves, until then it is an offense and slight to all who have faced discrimination.
P. S. the song below was created by Stevie Wonder during lobbying efforts in support of the creation of MLK Day. It is for MLK’s birthday.