By SEAN REDMILES
This past Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. day, a holiday that falls every year on the Monday after January 15th, the reverend’s birthday.
For some students and government employees, Martin Luther King Jr. Day represents a three day weekend that provides a much cherished day off before the long coming months of no holidays. Most would say that Martin Luther King Day commemorates the achievements of the great civil rights leader who changed America with his words and actions.
Others would say that the day gives Americans a chance to reflect on how far we have come in terms of race relations and how far we have yet to go.
To determine just how much has changed one can look back on the history of civil rights: from emancipation to the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow, to the march on Washington and the signing of the Voting Rights Act, to the election of this county’s first African American president.
To see how far we still need to go though, one can simply look to the history of the holiday itself.
Though Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday in 1983, all 50 states did not begin celebrating it together until 2000.
In 1990, the population of Arizona voted by 76 percent in a referendum to reject Martin Luther King Jr. day as a state holiday, despite appeals by Sen. John McCain to accept it.
Until the year 2000, Virginia celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the same Monday as the state holiday Lee-Jackson day, celebrating the birthdays of the two famous confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
There is an obvious inappropriateness in celebrating the birthday of the nation’s greatest civil rights leader on the same day as confederate generals who, if successful, would have perpetuated black slavery for decades.
Eventually, the governor of Virginia changed this state policy.
The last state to finally recognize Martin Luther King Day was South Carolina in 2000, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the history of South Carolina.
Even in the present year there have been issues with the celebration of the holiday.
Auburn, Mich. recently voted not to formally recognize MLK day and close down government offices.
Officially, the city stated that they needed to eliminate a paid holiday for budgetary reasons and chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day because it represents one man, and other holidays, such as Veteran’s day that might have been rejected are more inclusive of all peoples and races.
“If you didn’t have Veterans Day, you wouldn’t have Martin Luther King Jr. Day because veterans kept this country free and kept us going,” said Mayor Lee Kilbourne.
This attitude toward MLK day and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. must change.
The cause that King fought for was not just for African-Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for America to eliminate another layer of hypocrisy. Abraham Lincoln peeled away the first layer when he freed the slaves and brought America in line with its value of liberty for all. Martin Luther King Jr. peeled away the second by bringing America in line with its value of equality for all.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just a celebration of African-American rights and improvements in race relations in this country, though that was a significant part and deserves proper recognition.
It is a celebration of civil rights, which by definition means rights for all citizens of the nation.
There has never been just one front in the fight for freedom and equality for America.
The battle was waged as much in the streets of Birmingham as in the beaches of Normandy, and the third Monday of January represents this struggle in the person of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There is no more important or inclusive holiday in the calendar year, and it is time the entire country recognizes that.