Martin Luther King Jr Day – Make It a Day On, Not a Day Off

On Monday, January 20th (the third Monday of January)  we observe Martin Luther King Jr Day – a legal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was  a Baptist minister and a main leader of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s..  In the 1960’s African Americans experienced racial discrimination in many parts of America but especially in the South.  African Americans often were not allowed to vote, to go to the same schools as white students or to do many ordinary day to day activities  ( like sit in the front of a bus or eat at the same places white Americans ate). Many jobs were denied to them or they were paid much lower than a white American doing the same job.

The civil rights movement  successfully protested laws and customs that allowed discrimination based on color. It was a long, hard and often dangerous fight by regular citizens to overturn these laws and change the minds and hearts of Americans.  Mr King was a gifted speaker  and organizer who inspired many Americans to challenge the segregation laws by non violent  protests. One of his most famous speeches was “I Have a Dream” given during a historic civil rights march in Washington, D.C in 1963.  

He worked hard to make people understand that black people should always be treated equally to white people. He gave speeches and led rallies to encourage African Americans to protest without the need for violence.

One peaceful strategy was for African Americans to have sit-ins. This is where they would sit in a restaurant seat that was supposed to be only for white people. They would politely ask for some food and refuse to leave until someone gave them food. Another strategy that King used was leading boycotts. This is where people would refuse to buy goods or services from people who did not treat white people and black people the same

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The year 1964 was also when the Civil Rights Act was passed. This act banned many kinds of discrimination against black people. King then moved on to a bill that would make sure that black Americans would be allowed to vote. This led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It made it against the law to stop somebody from voting because of their race.

King had clearly made enemies in his rise to fame.  On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was preparing to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

To learn more about Martin Luther King Jr see this El Civics lesson.

This video shows us some of key changes that Martin Luther King helped make in this country

Many people honor Mr King’s memory by making the holiday a Day of Service to our nation and communities.  They seek to change society for the better one person at a time.  They encourage us to think of this day not as a day off but to make it a “day on” by volunteering for a social project .

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