Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a visionary, a global figure and an icon whose ideas have influenced people for generations. Dr. King dedicated his life to unifying people of all backgrounds and actualizing his dream of a nation where people thrived together in spite of their differences. Every year since 1983, the third Monday in January has been recognized as a federal holiday to commemorate his life, legacy and accomplishments.

Dr. King was instrumental in the most impactful nonviolent civil rights demonstrations in our nation’s history. Alongside countless brave men and women, Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. Even as he was arrested over two dozen times and had his home bombed by white supremacists, his commitment never wavered in the battle for civil rights.

However, as we continue the tradition of celebrating the life of Dr. King, we must remember that his work is far from finished. Data from the Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan voter’s rights organization, shows that over 400 voter suppression bills were introduced during the first five months of 2021 – 33 of which were signed into law in 19 states.[1]

Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy and they cannot be allowed to erode any further. For this reason, two crucial pieces of voting rights legislation are currently being considered at the federal level:

  • The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named in honor of the civil rights icon and late Georgia congressman, will fight voter suppression and restore enforcement provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were weakened by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court[2]

  • Furthermore, the Freedom to Vote Act would make it easier to register to vote, make Election Day a public holiday, ensure states have early voting for federal elections and allow all voters to request mail-in ballots[3]

However, both pieces of legislation have been met with opposition from the right, blocking them from advancing. Now, more than 800 clergy and faith leaders nationwide, many of whom represent states where voting rights have faced significant attacks, have signed on to a letter to President Biden and the Senate calling for the prioritization of voting rights legislation.[4]

Additionally, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, these leaders will join in solidarity with the family of Dr. King and over 100 national and grassroots organizations to demand Congress and the President restore and defend voting rights.[5] They plan to march across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C. to call for the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.[6] Every citizen’s fundamental right to vote is the most crucial aspect of living in a democracy and we must honor the work of Dr. King by fighting to ensure this right is protected for all people.

The Assembly Majority has continuously fought to protect voting rights and access, such as championing a 2019 law to implement a ten-day early voting period in all New York elections. Dr. King envisioned a world in which freedom truly rings and people of all backgrounds, races and religions can join hands and enjoy that freedom together. Though we are still fighting to achieve equity, we will always carry on Dr. King’s legacy.

Further Details

  • Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, and was a leading voice of the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his death in 1968
  • Dr. King served as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father who led the same congregation
  • He received a B.A. from Morehouse College in 1948, like his grandfather and father before him, earned his B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from the Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951 and his doctorate from Boston University in 1955
  • In Boston, he met Coretta Scott and married her in 1953 – they had two daughters (Yolanda and Bernice) and two sons (MLK III and Dexter)
  • Dr. King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954
  • Following individual protests by Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks challenging segregation on Montgomery buses in 1955, King lead a boycott of the city’s public buses that lasted over a year
  • During the boycott, Dr. King was arrested and had his home bombed, but the national attention that the nonviolent action gained propelled him to national acclaim
  • On December 21, 1956, following a lower court ruling that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court a day earlier, Montgomery public buses were integrated
  • Dr. King helped found and was elected president of the Southern Church Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a position he held until his death
  • In 1963, King worked in coordination with the NAACP to launch a massive protest of racial and economic injustice in Birmingham, Alabama, which culminated in his arrest and his inspirational “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
  • Later that same year, he helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech
  • King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963
  • In 1965, Dr. King helped lead a campaign for voting rights in Selma, which was briefly halted by “Bloody Sunday” as marchers were brutally beaten by police officers while crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge
  • In his final years, Dr. King began to speak out in opposition to the Vietnam War and sought to create a coalition of poor people of all races and backgrounds
  • On April 4, 1968, while supporting striking Memphis sanitation workers, Dr. King was shot and killed on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel [7],[8],[9],[10]  

Quotes

“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” — I Have a Dream, 1963

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

  • Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

  • Beyond Vietnam, 1967

2021 Voting Laws

  • Chapter 727 of 2021: Implements a statewide online absentee ballot tracking system, building on previous measures that required the development of online voter registration and automatic voter registration systems
  • Chapter 746 of 2021: Creates a statewide electronic absentee ballot application transmittal system
  • Chapter 763 of 2021: Expedites the ballot counting process by requiring boards of elections to count absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots on a rolling basis, requiring all central ballot scanners to be audited within three days of an election and prohibiting courts from changing the process for canvassing ballots
  • Chapter 781 of 2021: Enacts the Make Voting Easy Act, which increases the number of polling locations and the number of early voting hours

[1] insider.com/mlk-jrs-family-prefers-voting-rights-over-mlk-day-celebration-2021-12

[2] cnn.com/2021/12/15/politics/mlk-day-voting-rights-legislation/index.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] blackenterprise.com/more-than-800-faith-leaders-call-on-president-biden-and-the-senate-to-prioritize-voting-rights-in-2022/

[5] Ibid.

[6] cnn.com/2021/12/15/politics/mlk-day-voting-rights-legislation/index.html

[7] www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/biographical

[8] www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr/Challenges-of-the-final-years

[9] naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/civil-rights-leaders/martin-luther-king-jr

[10] www.britannica.com/event/Montgomery-bus-boycott