The third Monday in January is annually celebrated as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Most hardworking and thrifty Americans embrace this day by taking off from work and remaining clueless as to why Martin Luther King Jr. is revered. The principle cause for celebration is an extra paid holiday in a month where there is typically little else to smile about. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is always observed on the third Monday of January, even though Dr. King was born January 15th. Oddly enough, Dr. King’s given name was Michael, not Martin. So instead of celebrating Michael King Day annually on January 15th, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day annually on the third Monday of January. Make sense? Ok good.
Dr. King is well known throughout our nation as a Christian humanitarian who championed civil rights and the advancement of black people in America. Yet for the vast majority of Americans, that is literally all they know about King. He was a black religious guy who did progressive things for other black people. Well done, public school system. The more elaborate truth is that King was a landmark figure in almost every outlet of society in 1950s America. His breadth of influence touched everything from civil rights and religion to the Viet Nam war, inner city poverty rehabilitation, family planning structures, and a wide variety of local civic programs primarily in the deep south. He was also the first person to unequivocally identify the Loch Ness monster and he once saved a three-legged squirrel from drowning.
Much like our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, King is perhaps best known for one particular moment, his infamous “I have a dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963. Orated from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King called for an end to racism in America in front of a crowd of a quarter million. The legendary speech is ranked as the top speech of the 20th century and solidified Dr. King as an icon of 1960s America. It’s a little known fact amongst historians that Dr. King once delivered a similar presentation to his 6th grade class in 1941 entitled “I have a wet dream” specifically focusing on the influence on puberty in a generation of young men in the greater Atlanta area.
Like many other champions of the civil rights movement, Dr. King died a young man surrounded by questionable circumstances. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39 under auspicious conditions. As the years have passed and his death has become more scrutinized, it has become more plausible to view the death of King in a similar light as the deaths of John and Bobby Kennedy as well as the radical black Muslim, Malcolm Little. Modern historians liken all four assassinations in a similar vein, highlighted by potential U.S. government involvement in their killings. An autopsy of Dr. King revealed that although he was only 39, his cardiovascular health was that of a 60-year-old, due to years of unbridled stress working within the movement. The gunman in the King murder was identified as James Earl Ray, who was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison where he would eventually die from Hepatitis C. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, famously described Ray, recounting, “a bitch is a bitch” which would later become the theme to a popular 90s hip hop track by gangsta rapper Ice Cube.
Dr. King’s groundbreaking movement of peaceful disobedience paved the way for millions of oppressed black Americans. King remains a legendary figure in American history who’s memory is tainted only by how little we know of him as a public. Modern history has largely forgotten the peaceful civil rights movement, as new paradigm suggests that the more violent Black Power movement was far more influential to the eventual political autonomy of black citizens in America. Nevertheless, Dr. King is a figure worth remembering. So this year, be sure to do what the hardworking and tireless King would do on this day: take the day off, get intoxicated, and keep your collective blinders on. Always a pleasure, America. Perhaps one day we will rise up and live up to our creed, but today is not that day.