Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will forever be synonymous with his groundbreaking civil rights work. The third week of January honors this man and his legacy with a day that many locals agree is one of the most important of the year.
"It's about letting people know that all men are created equal, and [King] did that," said Concordian Loretta Filipov.
Filipov, who lost her husband Al in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has been an outspoken advocate for peace among all people over the last 10-plus years. Much of that work has been done through an organization called Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which derives its name directly from one of Dr. King's statements: "Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows."
Born in 1929, King grew up drawing inspiration from nonviolent activists like Mahatma Gandhi. Opposing the Jim Crow laws and other segregation acts, King became involved in a plethora of civil rights movements during the 1950s, including the famous Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.
During the following decade, King organized some of the largest civil rights events in history, including the March on Washington in 1963 in which King offered his “I Have a Dream” speech, arguing for equality among all people.
Through all of his campaigns, King was met with both acceptance and resistance, the latter of which culminated with his assassination in 1968.
To commemorate the work of Dr. King, supporters moved to declare Jan. 15 (King’s birthday) a federal holiday, beginning with Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Infoplease reports. President Ronald Regan eventually signed the King Holiday Bill in 1983, declaring a holiday on the third Monday of January. The day did not instantly become a holiday in all states, but Massachusetts was among the first in the nation to pass its own bill, enacting a holiday in the 1970s, according to Time Magazine.
"Somebody who's influenced the nation does deserve a day," Filipov said. "And it's not just a day off. We should reflect."
Not only should we reflect, but act as well. Quoting another of King's inspirational lines, Filipov said, "'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'"
King’s message of peace is so far-reaching, in fact, that officials in Memphis, Tennessee, the city in which he was killed, want to name a street after him to forever commemorate his positive work, reports The Associated Press.
"We've come a long way, but do we have a long way to go," Filipov said. "I wish he were still out there, still preaching."
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we ask you to share your own stories of standing behind your beliefs and championing equality. Tell us your thoughts on the holiday and the legacy behind it in the comment section below.