The History of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

  • Were my ancestors slaves?
  • Why didn't my father ever speak about our black history?
  • Why did my father prefer to call himself "Norfolkian-American" rather than the politically correct "African-American"?

These are just a few questions I ponder from time to time during my adult life.  As the child of a black man and a white woman, and Jewish to boot, friends and strangers alike would often ask me "what I was".  My skin tone wasn't as white as my Hebrew school friends' nor was it as brown as my public school friends'.  My wild curly Jew-fro was unlike the other kids' and I was visually different, I didn't look like anyone else. I am still trying to figure this out.  Some years ago while in elementary school my older daughter created a beautiful report on Halle Berry and her Revlon Sponsorship while I studied over 100 great Black Americans every year during school.  I'm not sure if the curriculum changed but our society says it has.  For better or for worse, my younger children both asked me what the holiday is all about today?  Is it Dr. King's birthday??

Truthfully, As a half-black aka mixed person, I didn't know until I looked it up this morning.   

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, Dr. King's Birthday was, in fact, January 15th.  It is part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and is celebrated on the third Monday in January.  The campaign to make this day a Federal "holiday" began shortly after his assassination in 1968. President Reagan first signed it into law in 1983 and it was first observed in 1986.  NOTEThis explains why I don't remember growing up with MLK, Jr. Day as a holiday--it didn't exist yet.  I graduated from Middle School in 1985, so it was probably so new, Baltimore civil rights leaders didn't know what to do about it yet.  Which....doesn't make much sense either, but whatever.

It was officially observed for the first time in 2000 in all 50 states.

--Wait--2000?  That explains so much.  It's only been a holiday for 18 years.  Good to know.  

I suspect that if there is some sort of campaign for a Barack Obama Day, there may be more fanfare around it, but I digress.  It's a different time and technology allows all sorts of awareness we didn't have access to, in even 2000.

I propose that the concept of the Civil Rights Movement is still a fairly new experience for all of us.  There are so many great leaders alive today who knew Dr. King very well and still, to this day, work to improve the lives for all Americans.  Dr. King's non-violent philosophies were cutting edge during the turbulent times of the 60's movement.  He wanted to encourage all people to use their brains and think about what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America and to consider how we treat other beings during this life.  Selfishness and personal disregard has no place in our current world.  

For me, the memorial and day of service today is a reminder of what Dr. King worked to achieve.  I applaud all people who use it to participate and actively engage in the work Dr. King so passionately spoke about.   

I believe it is my responsibility to teach my non-ethnic looking children every day how to be good people. I must teach them information and findings about what their own history is, who their ancestors were, and how they lived in order for our family to have the wonderful lives we have today.  That includes information about all of their ancestors so that they can become strong, independent thinking adults.  And while a lot of their friends and their families may not understand or recognize that my children's grandfather was a strong, independent black man, he was.  And an amazing one at that.  

As Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
My four little children are still looking for such opportunities, sadly, I don't think we're quite there yet.

- SB