Martin Luther King Jr. Day: More Than a "Black" Holiday


Martin Luther King Day is observed on the third Monday of January and in 2017 it falls on Monday, January 16, 2017. President Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law on November 2, 1983. Rather than a day commemorating his death — April 4, 1968 — the third Monday is January was selected to commemorate his birth date: January 15.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday was the first —  and still the only —  federal holiday recognizing an African-American. I can still remember hearing people in the early ‘80s say, “Why do we need a Black holiday?” Let me point out that the question was not “why do we need another federal holiday?”, but “why do we need a Black holiday?” I wish I could say that no one is asking that question as we approach January 16, 2017, but the question still lingers.

I believe the question lingers for at least two reasons.

One — racism; and I don’t use that word lightly. However, it would be naive to think that a sense of racial superiority is not a factor for some people as they consider the appropriateness of the holiday.

Two — misplaced focus; a focus on the man rather than a focus on his impact on US history. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had human failings —  as we all do —  but he was a prophetic voice during the Civil Rights Movement drawing attention to the injustice plaguing our nation. In the words of the late Coretta Scott King -

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit. – Coretta Scott King*

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is not a “Black” holiday. It is a day to affirm the dignity of all people. It is a day to remember the example of King — a drum major for justice. It is a day to lift our voice and lift our prayers on behalf the marginalized in our nation and in our world. January 16 is a federal holiday and some schools and businesses will be closed; but rather than think of the day as a day off, think of the day as a day of service and compassion. Think of the day as an opportunity to gather with other members of the community to re-affirm a commitment to the way of unconditional love, peace, and justice. 

If you’re in West Michigan, join local churches and the Office of Race Relations at Millbrook CRC on Monday, January 16 (7:00 - 8:30 PM) for worship and communal reflection on next steps. (See attached poster)

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige

Music: Ken Medema and friends

Location: Millbrook CRC, 3661 Poinsettia Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI


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