The Eagle Blog

Martin Luther King Day

Change happens in our society because people are willing to challenge the accepted wisdom of the day. The kind of protest that causes change can be uncomfortable for the affected government and we have seen recent protests of this kind in places like Taiwan and China, and are not uncommon in other countries including our own. Think of the Tamil Tiger protests in downtown Toronto.

We don’t have to agree with the people protesting, but we do need to open our minds to the possibility they have a point … that is how change happens.

It is difficult for people today to picture our society as repressive, but it was not that long ago that Martin Luther King and his followers were fighting for their rights. Martin Luther King was a leader who exemplifies the kind of protests that have helped to shape a society that is so much more tolerant today … but still has a little way to go. Take a minute to think about our world here in North America, we owe a lot to people like Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday celebrated in the United States marking the birthday (January 15th) of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and is observed each year on the third Monday of January.

In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream”, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honour began shortly after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983 and was observed for the first time in 1986. It was officially observed in all fifty states for the first time in 2006.

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