Martin Luther King Day in America
Martin Luther King Day is celebrated every January 15th in America as a national holiday. Most people like me, who are of a certain age, remember well this brilliant orator and man of great personal courage, from his monumental efforts to raise some 40 million African-Americans to a position of equality amongst all Americans.
Through his personal courage and brilliant oratory, Martin Luther King, and a cadre of dedicated leaders, brought the inequities of everyday life, among citizens of color, to the forefront of the American consciousness. And in so doing, made life better for millions. King didn’t solve all of their existing problems, nor did he do it alone. But, more than most his name became associated with much needed changes in America where fundamental inequities existed.
King’s tragic assassination enraged an entire population and gave rise to the effort to honor him and his efforts with a day in his memory. Though of monumental presence, King was not a saint in his personal life. He was mortal like the rest of us and had human failings like we all do. Opponents of his civil rights efforts often cited his human failings as evidence that his cause was unjust. Their arguments were as empty as their bigoted rhetoric.
MLK day is certainly about the man and his movement. But, more importantly, it is a celebration of the struggle of a people to be free in America, free to vote, free to use public conveyances, free to educate their children and seek an equal opportunity for employment. In short, free to seek rights and privileges that all of our immigrant ancestors had struggled to achieve for their own since the founding of the Republic some two hundred years ago.
Last Christmas time, a favorite niece has repeated a question her child brought home to her. In his school, her son shared classrooms with children who were celebrating Kwanza and Chanukah, though he could neither spell or pronounce either correctly. Neither can I for that matter. The child wanted to know what the differences were from these celebrations and that of Christmas.
My response to her at the time was that all of the particulars of the occasion weren’t essential to appreciate the various holidays. He just had to know that these various holidays are a celebration of the many good and wonderful character traits that these religious, ethnic or racial groups represented in American life. And in this vein, they are similar to our own noisy Celtic celebration of St. Patrick’s Day or the Christian tradition of Christmas. That seemed to answer the child’s question and make some sense to him.
And in this vein, I hope that we all commemorate Martin Luther King Day as a celebration of the accomplishments on an entire group of people in their monumental struggle for fundamental equality in America. And also, to give thanks that our system produces men of great character and courage, like King and others, who had the personal fortitude to stand up not only for their own rights, but to ensure that all Americans were treated with fundamental equity by their government.
“I have a dream” will long reverberate in the annals of American history with similar iconic phrases like “give me liberty or give me death” and “The land of the free and the home of brave.”
Sleep well Martin, for those who come after you will enjoy much better lives from your efforts.
Joseph Xavier Martin