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King Holiday a Chance to Reflect and Act


Throughout the United States, ceremonies, parades and church services honor the birthday of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Although his actual birthday is January 15th, the third Monday in January has been set aside to honor the man and his crusade for social justice.

Americans across the United States celebrate the national holiday that honors the life and work of Martin Luther King Junior. The day is observed in several ways: parades, wreath-laying ceremonies and even protests are some of the ways that Americans have chosen to commemorate the holiday.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the ringing of the Liberty Bell has become a Martin Luther King holiday tradition. There is a wreath-laying each year at Reverend King's tomb in Atlanta, Georgia. And anti-war protesters have demonstrated against what they say is a conflict with his legacy of non-violence and equality for all.

"One of the greatest glories of American democracy, is that we have the right to protest, we will do it in an orderly fashion, this is a non-violent protest." Those were the words of a young Martin Luther King Jr., just days after he organized a boycott to end racism in public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama.

In much of the U.S., particularly the South, laws required Blacks to ride in the back of the bus, while Whites sat in the front.

Reverend King's non-violent approach began with a boycott, and he went on to help achieve equal rights for Black Americans. It made him an international figure.

In 1964, Reverend King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and also witnessed the signing of the Civil Rights Bill, which was designed to give Black Americans equal rights, as provided by the Constitution.

Reverend Clarence Newsome, former Dean of Howard University's School of Divinity, explains the importance of remembering what Martin Luther King did. "Celebrating his life, keeps before us both the vision and the possibility. Celebrating his life leads to the kind of inspiration that challenges us to make a dream a reality."

And that dream was articulated in a stirring 1963 civil rights speech, during the March on Washington: "I have a dream, that this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal."

The large-scale, integrated gathering and Dr. King's speech, helped millions of Americans to better understand the civil rights movement.

Sterling Tucker, a Washington, D.C. civil rights activist, helped organize the March on Washington. He remembers that historic day, "When the group met with the President of the United States, and he said he had been watching that day, over the television and [he] pointed out this is what has to be done to get the Voting Rights Act through [Congress]. So the government now was beginning to move and industry and other parts of labor were beginning to move with them," said Mr. Tucker.

After the March on Washington, Reverend King continued to push for civil rights: organizing marches and demonstrations for the right to vote, for equal access to public accommodations and equal pay.

In April 1968, Reverend King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support and help end a strike by sanitation workers. It was there he made his now-famous final speech: "I have seen the Promised Land, and I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

The next day Revered King was shot dead as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room with friends. Rather than simply mourn him, or use his birthday anniversary as a day off, many Americans honor his memory by trying to do something that promotes a more just society.

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