On this Day:

On January 20, 1986 the first Federal Holiday to honour Martin Luther King Jr. was held. Martin Luther King Jr. was always a strong supporter of civil rights. He had his first taste of racism at the age of six, when his white friend’s father told his son he could no longer play with Martin. This was the beginning of a life long quest to make the world a better place, a place where peoples’ skin colour or race was not important: a place where you were judged by your character. He worked tirelessly in his cause and he became, at the age of 35, the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington DC.

In 1968, four days after Martin Luther King’s assassination (April 4, 1968), Congressman John Conyers introduced a bill to honour the civil rights activist with a holiday. This was controversial and the path to success was riddled with many setbacks.

The Southern Christian Leadership conference which had been led by King since its inception in 1957 gathered 3 million signatures in support of this endeavor. The King Center in Atlanta which was founded by Coretta Scott King also helped to mobilize support. In November 1979 the King bill was finally introduced by congressional committees but was voted down 5 to 1. In January of 1983 over 100,000 people marched to the Washington Monument. Stevie Wonder helped bring awareness by “composing a song celebrating King’s birth.” He financially supported a lobbying office for King. This office coordinated a march honouring 20 years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More than half a million people marched in support.

In 1983 a bill was finally passed to designate the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This day was chosen as his birth day was January 15. It was implemented in many states in 1986. However some states were still against the idea and the last state to honour him with a paid holiday was South Carolina in 2000.

In many states, including his home state of Georgia, there were parades, church services, concerts, candlelight vigils, marches and even a Freedom Train that extended from San Jose to San Fransisco. In his home state Vice President George W. Bush and Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, Coretta Scott King placed a wreath on King’s tomb at the Ebenezer Baptist Church following a march that included many civil rights activists. King had been a part time pastor at this church until his death in 1968. Coretta Scott King also “awarded Desmond Tutu with the King Peace Prize for his work against Apartheid” on this day.

“After the holiday bill became law, the King Center gained congressional support to establish a King Federal Holiday Commission, which introduced a variety of commemorative activities, including tree planting ceremonies and the distribution of posters, newsletters, and guides citing the principles of King’s nonviolence teachings. In the 1990s the King holiday theme became “Remember—Celebrate—Act. A Day On, Not a Day Off.” “Since 1994, the day of service has been coordinated nationally by AmeriCorps, a federal agency, which provides grants to organizations that coordinate service activities on MLK Day.”

These are “occasions to recall one of the most painful and dramatic eras of American history,” as reported by Time in January of 1986. It is a time to ensure we are still “climbing the staircase” to a better world.

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First, a Story:

Why did Martin Luther King get an A in Math?

He was good at finding solutions to inequalities.

Second, a Song:

“Happy Birthday” is a song written, produced and performed by Stevie Wonder for the Motown label. Wonder, a social activist, was one of the main figures in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. become a national holiday, and created this single to promulgate the cause. The song has since become a standard for use during birthdays in general, particularly among African-Americans.

“Happy Birthday” was released as the fourth single of Wonder’s Hotter than July album in June 1981. It was one of his most popular entries in the UK Singles Chart. It was not released in the United States, but is still regarded as one of his signature songs.

Stevie Wonder wrote this song to raise awareness and garner support for the movement to declare a national holiday in honour of Martin Luther King. Here are the lyrics to Stevie Wonders Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Stevie Wonder performing them. I hope you enjoy this!

“Happy Birthday”

You know it doesn’t make much sense
There ought to be a law against
Anyone who takes offense
At a day in your celebration
‘Cause we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
What could fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
that they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday

Why has there never been a holiday
Where peace is celebrated
all throughout the world

The time is overdue
For people like me and you
Who know the way to truth
Is love and unity to all God’s children
It should be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people
So let us all begin
We know that love can win
Let it out don’t hold it in
Sing it loud as you can

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Happy birthday
Ooh yeah
Happy birthday

We know the key to unity of all people
Is in the dream that you had so long ago
That lives in all of the hearts of people
That believe in unity
We’ll make the dream become a reality
I know we will
Because our hearts tell us so


Thought for the Day:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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