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Martin Luther King: The History and Purpose of The Holiday

MLK Day falls on Monday, January 16th this year, 2012. Even though most of us have learned about this national holiday and know its history at least in part, I want to take some time to pay my respects and recap some of the most important aspects of this holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. led an interesting, full, and highly impactful life. His credetials are incredible, and what he achieved in the 13 years that he led the civil rights movement was incredible.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15th, 1929, King was destined for greatness from the very beginning, it seems. By the time he was 15, he was already going to college. By the time he was 26, King was already an ordained pastor and had earned a doctorate in theology.

Married at 24 to Coretta Scott, the King family consisted of Dr. and Mrs. King and four children.

Though the degrees King held and at what age he earned them, these are minimal accomplishments compared to his place in our nation’s history. In the short time that King led the civil rights movement, more of an impact was made than in the entire time period prior.

“On the 25th anniversary of the King Federal Holiday, we still have work to do to realize Dr. King’s dream.  MLK Day of Service is the perfect time for Americans to answer Dr. King’s challenge to do something for others.  Just as Dr. King set big goals and focused relentlessly on results, we need sustained citizen action to address today’s social challenges.”

Just as he did in his life, the holiday honoring his service is our nation’s call to action for individuals. This Day of Service has grown into an organized and important day for Americans to do something to help in their communities and make the country better overall.

“The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. On this day, Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

If you’re interested in finding projects to do on this national day of service, you can easily find projects to participate in for your community.

Dr. King participated in numerous non-violent protests in the name of civil rights, including bus boycotts, protesting the arrest of Rosa Parks, and countless other non-violent protests. He was pivotal in turning the civil rights movement into results. Because of his deication to civil rights, he was arrested a total of 30 times.

Toward the end of his life, his goals encompassed more than only civil rights.

His most famous speech is, “I have a dream,” which can be found online on the American Rhetoric web site. Full text and audio are available for Dr. King’s most famous speech.

“While Dr. King preached about justice, empowerment, love and peace, in the final months of his life, his attention was turned to fighting poverty. Sadly, more Americans live in poverty today than during Dr. King’s lifetime. Forty-seven million Americans currently fall below the poverty line.”

I’m sure that King would’ve had the same impact on the United States and the world had he not been assassinated, but the details of his death drive his point and message home with a force to be reckoned with. On April 4th, 1968, a white segregationalist named James Earl Ray shot Dr. King in cold blood. Ray was too late – King had already made an unstoppable impact and changed the course of history before his death, and his assassination just made him a more beloved leader.

“During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the modern American civil rights movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality than the previous 350 years had produced.” (From The Martin Luther King Jr. Center)

This is amazing progress by any standards, and Dr. King is the man responsible for pushing the movement in a forward direction to making a difference in society and the American culture. A successful, wise, and strong person from the very start. Dr. King is an integral part of our history and worked to drive his message home to everyone, raising the sympathy, understanding, and values of society.

The best way to honor Dr. King and his incredible impact on our lives is to participate in a community service or volunteer project on Monday, January 16th, which marks the 25th anniversary of the holiday.

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