How Cities Are Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day & Honoring The Civil Rights Icon
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is now a federally recognized holiday in all 50 U.S. states, but it wasn't mandatory that states celebrate or even recognize the day as such until the year 2000. This was particularly true for me growing up in the Southern state of Georgia, which conflated the celebration of Confederate General Robert E. Lee with that of MLK, at least up through my time in middle school. To think that these two men were lumped together in one holiday is absurd, to say the very least. Thankfully, well-deserved Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations now happen all around the country.
However, the days of the civil rights leader sharing his day with a Confederate general are not entirely over. Though most states which still honor the Civil War do so the Tuesday after MLK Day, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama still observe such holidays on the same day. By doing so, they act in stark contrast to the rest of the country, which looks to honor the activist's birthday through marches and rallies. Check out how these cities celebrate MLK Jr. Day in honor of the historic figure
San Jose and San Francisco, California
San Jose has a unique way of honoring Dr. King. Each year, residents board a train set for San Francisco, a 54-mile journey done in honor of the similar distance King traveled from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The initial train ride was started under the direction of King's widow, Coretta Scott King. This year, San Francisco's "Celebration Train" hoped to turn out a huge crowd of supporters.
Despite its state's continued celebration of Robert E. Lee, Atlanta promises some great events in honor of the civil rights leader. The city focuses on bringing residents together for community service, from planting fresh vegetation to assisting the elderly. Residents also saw their fair share of politics surrounding the day this year. At Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, the site of King's baptism and work as a pastor, King's daughter Bernice King spoke of the country being "distracted." She warned that a complacency over civil rights had allowed new, harmful voting regulations to sneak in. She also told the audience that the country's education system has become “the worst in the world.”
In keeping up with King's line of protesting, some residents of the West Coast port city enacted a demonstration on the westbound Bay Bridge. They chained themselves and five cars together while holding signs that read "Black Health Matters." Though 16 individuals were eventually handcuffed by police for blocking traffic, each followed the example of King's guidelines, remaining peaceful and calm.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock is observing the King holiday a little differently. In fact, a majority of its celebration is focused around making it so that King is the only historical figure to be honored on this day. Thus, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last week that he is urging lawmakers to do away with the state's joint holiday, giving King his own day, completely separate from Robert E. Lee.
The nation's capital celebrated MLK Day with a Peace Walk and Parade. The parade saw thousands demonstrating in the streets, as they eventually ended their walk at the district's Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.
Harlem, New York
Harlem is holding perhaps the largest celebration today, with their MLK Now event. The event will include speech reenactments from the likes of celebrities Chris Rock, Octavia Spencer, and Michael B. Jordan, as well as in-depth panels on how to confront the racism still present today.
So regardless of where you live in the country, you should be able to join in on the celebration. Even if it's by honoring King through striving to be peaceful, the legacy of the activist will continue on.