MLK Day sparks debate on meaning of the holiday

January 18, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his “I have a dream” speech. He was assassinated April 4, 1968. – Submitted Photo


Staff Reporter


Though it may seem that Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been considered a holiday for just as long as Christmas or Thanksgiving, it has only been 30 years since Congress first passed legislation recognizing it as a federal holiday.


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the front-man for nonviolent activism during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s up until his assassination in 1968.


Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan first introduced the bill for the commemorative holiday four days after King’s assassination.


After 15 years of rallying and petitioning, Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, and President Ronald Regan signed it into law.


MLK Day takes place on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, Jan. 15.


Despite his popularity and contributions to the civil rights movement, many controversies have surfaced with oppositions to dedicating a day to a single symbol of the era.


Opposition of the holiday argues the civil rights movement as a whole should be honored rather than one man.


Robert Price, a sophomore nutrition major, feels King is not the only historical figure worthy of a federal holiday.


“Throughout American history there have been multiple individuals worthy of being recognized with a federal holiday,” Price said. “I feel that those selected do not accurately represent the extent of what Americans have to celebrate. The civil rights movement as a whole is more than worthy of federal recognition because of its great aspect of the American story.”


Another opposition to MLK Day is whether or not King was important enough to have a federal holiday.


Hope Leverman, a junior cyber engineering major, said she believes King’s importance in American history is undeniable.


“Every American should pay some type of tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King,” Leverman said. “He was not only an activist for civil rights for African Americans but a patriot of peace and an advocate for nonviolent solutions, and he died for what he believed in.”


Other disapproval of the national holiday insists it is heinous to American taxpayers, suggesting paying public employees not to work for one day would hurt the economy.


Sandra Williams, a public employee for the city of Ruston, believes paying public workers for celebrating the day is the least the government could do.


“MLK Day is our way of memorializing the civil rights movement and the events that led to up to it,” Williams said. “The government should pull out their calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, add a hundred more years of economic, political and social discrimination and deduct the cost of paying public employees from that.”


To some, MLK Day is a day of celebration and preparation for Black History Month, but for others it’s just another day.


Karen Smitherson, a sophomore nutrition major, said she only sees the holiday as a day off.


“If you don’t get out of school or work for a day, then it’s not a real holiday,” Smitherson said.“I don’t do anything special on MLK Day nor do I do anything special on Presidents, Memorial, or Labor Day.”


Others such as Veronica Thomas take the day to celebrate and to pay homage to the civil rights leader.


“Being an African American, I take great pride in my heritage,” Thomas said. “Each year I attend parades and festivals on MLK day to celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.”


This year MLK day will fall on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration of the first African American president, Barack Obama, for his second term.

Regardless of controversies, MLK Day commemorates a critical activist and a movement that continues to inspire Americans today.


Email comments to eae008@latech.edu.


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