Today honours Martin Luther King Jr., a renowned American civil rights leader. He is known for his fight against racial segregation on public transport in the U.S. as well as for racial equality.
The day is a federal holiday in the States celebrating his achievements throughout his life. It is held on the third Monday in each January, near his birthday, January 15th.
King was an advocate for non-violent protest. You would likely recognize his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. He became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
After his death, campaigns led by his widow, Coretta Scott King, were started to make his birthday a holiday in order to honour him. The proposal was opposed by the Republicans and lawmakers in the Deep South, citing that giving employees another paid holiday would be too expensive, and that it wasn’t “appropriate” to grant such an honour to someone who had never held office. It took almost two decades before the bill was finally passed in 1983, and 3 more years after that before it was officially observed. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that it was observed in all states.
To this day, although Martin Luther King Jr. Day is now commemorated in all 50 states, some combine commemorations of King’s birthday with another holiday to honour civil rights. Nueces County in Texas, for instance, refers to it as “County Civil Rights Holiday:”
Monday is not Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Nueces County, Texas.
It’s a “County Civil Rights Holiday.” pic.twitter.com/ZRu33p6PLi
— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) January 14, 2017
So how do people celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Since it’s still a relatively new holiday, there aren’t many long-standing traditions. Schools will teach students about the history surrounding his work and the struggle against racial segregation. Americans are encouraged to volunteer in their communities as well.
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