The fight to institute a national day of commemoration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day began in 1968, after his passing. This motion was met with congressional opposition and in 1983, the 3rd Monday in January was designated as a day for remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The first observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day occurred in 1983, 15 years later.
In this 39th year, honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with education and service. Stay tuned this week to learn how to celebrate with context.
Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived and began working in Chicago? Regardless of its Northern location, Chicago was a challenging city for Dr. King to work in due to how deeply rooted systemic racism is in housing. Dr. King knew segregation was a national problem, but the manifestation of these issues between Southern to Northern states demanded different forms of work.
The Chicago Freedom Movement formed in July 1965 when local civil rights groups invited Dr. King to the North. The Chicago Freedom Movement fought issues of systemically segregated housing, educational deficiencies, and employment. Dr. King advocated for doubling minimum wage, fair funding for all schools, and fair mortgages. In 1966, Dr. King would move to Chicago to expose the living conditions there.
The most well known demonstrations of The Chicago Freedom Movement happened in Marquette Park in demand of open housing. Demonstrators were met with opposition, about 700 white, racially-charged protestors. In an interview, Dr. King admitted he had never seen “mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as [he’d] seen here in Chicago.” In an attempt to silence demonstrations, Richard J. Daley negotiated an agreement with Dr. King to make more public housing and mortgages available regardless of race or neighborhood.
Many critics claim Dr. King’s work in Chicago is incomplete. Perhaps though, Dr. King’s battle in the North pulled back the curtain on the segregation, inequity, and redlining in Chicago neighborhoods. It exposed and sparked conversations about resources withheld from Black communities.
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr. March 14th, 1968 at Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan from a speech that demanded better living conditions for Black people.
“life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘what are you doing for others?” - From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 collection, Strength to Love
National Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not a day off, or a day away from school/work. You may have heard people say, “It’s a day on, not a day off.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service.
Service means active involvement in an initiative to make a positive impact on someone else. Service work can take form as a skill and/or a physical resource. Through service, direct and specific actions come together to uplift communities of people who share something in common. Considering the number of communities that one participates in, there are even more opportunities for service. Service is about being an active contributing member, taking direction based on their needs and their inequities, and providing sustainable support.
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ignites civic service and inspires us to mobilize our own communities and deploy our own resources. Through service, we ensure that Dr. King’s legacy is not forgotten and each step he took was not made in vain.