Remember! Celebrate! Act!: A Day On, Not A Day Off!
Martin Luther King's death did not slow the Civil Rights Movement. Black and white people continued to fight for freedom and equality. Coretta Scott King is the widow of the civil rights leader. In 1970, she established the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta, Ga. This "living memorial" consists of his boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King is buried.
On Monday, January 20, 1986, in cities and towns across the country people celebrated the first official Martin Luther King Day, the only federal holiday commemorating an African-American. A ceremony which took place at an old railroad depot in Atlanta, Ga., was especially emotional. Hundreds had gathered to sing and to march. Many were the same people who, in 1965, had marched for 50 miles between two cities in the state of Alabama to protest segregation and discrimination of black Americans.
All through the 1980's, controversy surrounded the idea of a Martin Luther King Day. Congressmen and citizens had petitioned the President to make Jan. 15, Martin Luther King's birthday, a federal legal holiday. Others wanted to make the holiday on the day he died, while some people did not want to have any holiday at all.
Jan. 15 had been observed as a legal holiday for many years in 27 states and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared the third Monday in January a federal legal holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.
Schools, offices and federal agencies are closed for the holiday. On Monday there are quiet memorial services as well as elaborate ceremonies in honor of Dr. King. On the preceding Sunday, ministers of all religions give special sermons reminding everyone of Dr. King's lifelong work for peace. All weekend, popular radio stations play songs and speeches that tell the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Television channels broadcast special programs with filmed highlights of Dr. King's life and times.
Source: English Language Programs, Department of State
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