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Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Significance and National Day of Service

Jan 11 2024

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr, is celebrated each year with a Federal holiday on third Monday of January. This year, the holiday will be celebrated on January 15, 2024. As a way to highlight Martin Luther King, Jr. Day’s Significance, the day is set aside as a National Day of Service. People everywhere are encouraged to take time during the holiday to serve others. Suggested acts of service are cleaning up public spaces, mentoring a young person, or helping the hungry or reaching out to elderly neighbors. We also suggest that you testify to your own experience, by adding your stories here because your stories matter to the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day' s Significance

Martin Luther King, Jr. selflessly struggled for 13 years for equality, inclusion and the dignity of all people through his efforts to expand civil rights for African Americans. His struggle of deep personal sacrifice culminated with his assassination on April 4, 1968, at age 39, but his power and influence have persisted and grown. In 1968, it was not thinkable that an African American would be the inspiration for a national holiday. The fact of this holiday alone is a stark bulwark of freedom and dignity for African Americans. Perhaps for those opposed to the civil rights of all men, this holiday is an affront. There are dark forces in the world that have grown in recent years that certainly see the celebration of any person of color as an affront to white people, to the status quo, to the power of the elites. This is an unfortunate reality - that in spite of the great strides in civil rights, many see these strides as a threat.

At History Chip, we celebrate and are inspired by Martin Luther King’s dedication to the equality, inclusion and dignity of all people. Few individuals in the history of the world have dedicated their lives so thoroughly and so effectively for the greater good of all mankind. We marvel at his sacrifice and his achievements. So often many of us are afraid to take a stand, to speak up in the face of hatred or bigotry. We are afraid of the personal consequences without considering the long term dangers of not standing up for kindness, humanity and dignity.

On the afternoon of April 4, 1968, my mother and I had been shopping near our home in Virginia and had just gotten into our car to return home when the news came on the radio announcing the news that Dr. King had been killed. My entire life I had heard that Dr. King was a thorn in the side of the adults in my community. I had no broader understanding of this man as a freedom fighter, a man of deep moral convictions and someone ready to sacrifice his own life for the fight for equality and inclusion. I had heard that he was a rabble rouser, a man eager to cause trouble, and force unwelcome changes and anger. I was young and unable to see a broader picture. I didn’t understand the devastating nature of this murder. I didn’t understand that this was a murder of Dr. King and a murder to end the hope of African Americans.

However, his murder galvanized the efforts of African Americans and shocked all  Americans who came to recognize the imperative of support for the dignity of African Americans. And for me, and I believe for many Americans, it was a turning point. For many Americans, from that day on, the struggle for freedom for all people became a greater moral imperative.

Dr. King was a human being. He was not a rabble rouser. He was a man making the ultimate sacrifice to make life better for all people. He was suddenly killed by someone who saw things as I had been taught. He was in the way! He was causing trouble and like a mosquito was swatted down as a nuisance.

But I had missed the boat, as had his assassin, James Earl Ray, and others who saw Dr. King as a nuisance. Dr. King was working to make life better for all people. We were misled to think that his efforts would make our lives worse not better. We were misled. We were operating out of fear of the other. We missed the boat and in so doing, we lost an extraordinary human being who dedicated his entire life to the elusive goals of equality, peace, non-violence and an end to poverty. Imagine a world where his goals were met and how delightful such a world would be. Then you can understand the weight of the loss of Dr. King.

Dr. King inspires us every day. For many years, I have had a photo of Dr. King, on my refrigerator. It is a bit stained and dog eared but those flaws have not diminished its power to remind me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s generosity of spirit, his unwavering dedication to the belief that,

 “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'".

National Day of Service

At History Chip, we work to keep his spirit alive by doing our part to work for equality, inclusion and the dignity of all people. That is why we ask for your stories. We want your stories as testimony to your place on this planet and to what you have seen and experienced. We know your stories matter. As part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, consider adding a story to History Chip about your life, or what you see out your window, or about what the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day means to you. Testify to your own experience because your stories matter.