Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s (1929-68) birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year.
President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. Observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, it is called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Following President George H. W. Bush's 1992 proclamation, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year, near the time of King's birthday. On January 17, 2000, for the first time, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was officially observed in all fifty U.S. states. Arizona (1992), New Hampshire (1999) and Utah (2000) were the last three states to recognize the holiday.
Just days after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination in housing and housing-related transactions on the basis of race, religion or national origin (later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability). This legislation was seen as a tribute to King's struggle in his final years to combat residential discrimination in the U.S.
King's work served as an inspiration for South African leader Albert Lutuli, another black Nobel Peace prize winner who fought for racial justice in his country.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the guests behind him is Martin Luther King.
King's wife, Coretta Scott King, followed in her husband's footsteps and was active in matters of social justice and civil rights until her death in 2006. The same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, she established the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to preserving his legacy and the work of championing nonviolent conflict resolution and tolerance worldwide.
In speaking once about how he wished to be remembered after his death, King stated:
“I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
“I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."
Q&A with Godfrey Hodgson, author of Martin Luther King, was interviewed by the University of Michigan Press about Dr. King:
UMP: Did Martin Luther King, Jr. mold the times he lived in, or was he in fact a product of those times?
GH: Like most great men, Dr. King both was shaped by his time, and shaped it. He was “a prince of the captivity,” the son of a powerful and influential Atlanta pastor, but he was limited by the constraints that restricted opportunities for all African-Americans in his generation. He was shaped by his father’s ambitions for him, by the traditions of the black Baptist churches and by his theological education, first at theological seminary, then at Boston University. These gave him his political commitment to equality, his liberal Protestant theology, and his rich linguistic culture, formed by the rhetoric of Jefferson and Lincoln, the preaching traditions of his church, and the language of the Bible.
Equally, he greatly influenced the development of the civil rights movement. The Montgomery bus boycott brought it to national attention. By founding the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) he brought isolated leaders together into a national movement. His “I Have a Dream” speech made him the most powerful African-American leader. It was his ultimately successful campaigns in Birmingham later in 1963 and in Selma in 1965 that compelled first President Kennedy and then President Johnson to come off the fence. Kennedy committed himself (not before time!) to a civil rights bill, and Johnson passed it.
Finally, Dr. King’s death established him as a martyred leader whose prestige and reputation could not be denied. However, his impact was ambiguous in this sense: he may have committed the Democratic Party to civil rights and racial equality, but he also caused large numbers of southern Democrats to defect to the Republicans. This tilted the Republican Party towards conservative principles, and (because of the voting rights act of 1965) left the Democrats a “liberal” part, no longer the Roosevelt coalition of conservative southerners and northern labor and intellectuals.
UMP: Do you believe Dr. King would have similar impact today? Why or why not?
GH: Because he was a man of great force of personality, Dr. King would have had an impact whenever and wherever he lived. But his influence today would have had to be exercised in a very different way, in part because of his very success. He would have to be either a politician, or a media figure, or a churchman of a very different kind to have comparable impact in the America of today.
UMP: What would you consider the turning point, or most important moment, of Dr. King’s career, and why?
GH: I would have to say that to the extent that his career was successful, the critical moment was the speech at the March on Washington.
UMP: What do you consider his lasting historical legacy to be for the United States and the world as a whole?
GH: He has had many specific legacies. They are summed up in the fact that, since his life, work and death, it is no longer intellectually or politically respectable to defend racial segregation or racial injustice.
Visit your local library for these resources:
The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King
Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, (2012).
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. remains unresolved in the minds of many. James Earl Ray confessed to the murder, but questions abound as to his motive. Since there was no trial, any evidence against him was never tested in a court of law. Although Ray later recanted and suggested a broader conspiracy against Dr. King in which he was framed, the evidence offered to support his contention was scant. Wexler and Hancock have undertaken their own investigation and reexamination of the crime and place King’s murder in a broader context. They suggest that white-supremacist organizations believed King’s death would be the ideal catalyst to widespread interracial violence. Several bounties were offered, and Ray possibly responded to one. Still, nothing went as planned in Memphis. No sensationalist account, this book is as plodding as it is detailed and thorough. Experts will have to examine the sufficiency of Wexler and Hancock’s analysis, but their book is a step in the direction of a better understanding of a national tragedy.
—REVIEW. First published April 15, 2012 (Booklist). Christopher McConnell
Burial for a King: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Funeral and the Week That Transformed Atlanta and Rocked the Nation.
Rebecca Burns, (2011).
The days between the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and his funeral on April 9 in Atlanta were fraught with social and racial upheaval, riots, and political jockeying as the nation looked forward to an uncertain future. Days before King’s assassination, President Johnson had announced his decision not to seek reelection as the Vietnam War continued its muddled path. Journalist Burns details the social, racial, and political context surrounding King’s death: Robert Kennedy calming angry crowds at a campaign stop in Indianapolis; the campaign of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace; the prospects for young black activists Jesse Jackson and Stokely Carmichael as well as King’s successor, Ralph Abernathy; and Coretta Scott King’s dignified comportment in the face of tragedy. While riots broke out in 110 cities, including Washington, D.C., Atlanta remained calm as it grappled with the logistics of more than 150,000 people coming to pay respect to King and his life’s work. Burns draws on interviews and archival material to present a compelling look at a pivotal time in the U.S. —REVIEW. First published December 1, 2010 (Booklist). Vanessa Bush
I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Arthur Flowers, illustrated by Manu Chitrakar, (2010).
Both evocative and factually rich, this presentation of the career of Martin Luther King Jr. shows the man on an authentic world stage and as a leader who learned from his travels to both India and Africa. Flowers provides an incisive and succinct text that steadily maintains the propulsive griot narrative style of King’s African ancestry: “This what bring King to a vision of black folk as a folk with a destiny. This what move him to the prophetic.” Chitrakar’s free-floating images, which juxtapose and amplify the text, are deeply steeped in the Patua scroll-painting tradition, from the Bengali faces to the panoply of browns and yellows and pinks that differentiate individuals rather than races. The choice of props and scenery speak more of India than America, and protesters’ signs are written in Bengali script rather than English. Rossi’s graphic layout intersperses black pages in which King’s quotes are set in large white type with bright pages tracing his education as a preacher, his entry into the nascent civil rights fray, and his ascendancy to martyrdom. King’s doubts about himself and others, adultery, and relationships with political leaders all receive just due. Older teens, in addition to adults, will find this to be a standout both as a distinctive graphic narrative that combines two worldstorytelling traditions and as an examination of King’s life and its enduring legacy across the globe.
—REVIEW. First published December 15, 2010 (Booklist). Francisca Goldsmith
Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin.
Hampton Sides, (2010).
In 1967, an escaped prisoner, drifter, and racist, while voluntarily working on the presidential campaign for George Wallace in California, got the idea of stalking and killing Martin Luther King Jr. Using the alias Eric Galt, he traveled to his native South and kept track of King as the civil rights leader marched in Memphis for the striking garbage collectors. Galt, whose real name was James Earl Ray, methodically planned and executed the assassination then fled to Canada and Europe, hoping eventually to immigrate to South Africa. Drawing on interviews and previously unpublished resources, Sides builds suspense on parallel tracks of the civil rights leader and the assassin as the day of their shared destiny approaches. In the second half of the book, Sides offers riveting details of the FBI investigation—leads, blind alleys, conspiracy theories—amid rumors that the agency and its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, were somehow behind the assassination. Sides captures the zeitgeist of the 1960s: the racial tumult, the populist backlash, the counterculture self-realization mood. Despite the fact that readers know much of the history, they will be swept up in the narrative because Sides writes with immediacy, intimacy, and the pacing of a thriller.—REVIEW. First published April 1, 2010 (Booklist). Vanessa Bush
Martin Luther King.
Godfrey Hodgson, (2010).
British journalist and author Hodgson recounts the life of Martin Luther King Jr. from his birth in 1929 to his assassination in 1968, touching on the major high and low points of King’s activism and personal life. Hodgson, who has written several books on American politics, examines the racial landscape of the U.S. and how King coped with, challenged, and eventually changed it. Hodgson explores King’s transformation from a Southern Baptist preacher to a national civil rights leader and international peace and human-rights activist. He recounts King’s relationships with other civil rights figures, including Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, and leftist Stanley Levison. He chronicles the successful and failed strategies, the tensions between King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the more assertive Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as younger generations challenged the slow pace of change, as well as the stress of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI surveillance. Hodgson offers no new insights or deep analysis, but his viewpoint as a British journalist who interviewed King on several occasions from 1956 to 1967 adds an interesting perspective.— REVIEW. First published February 1, 2010 (Booklist).Vanessa Bush
Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws that Changed America
Nick Kotz, (2005).
Johnson and King were southerners from similar roots but worlds apart--one white, one black; one a president, the other a minister. Their lives merged with the events that led to the passage of the transformative civil rights acts of 1964 and 1965. Kotz traces the synergy of nonviolent civil disobedience with keen political acumen that produced the epic of the civil rights movement. Johnson embraced the critical analysis by black citizens concerning the gap between American practices and its principles on equity and freedom. Kotz covers the rising tension of the era that led to what King referred to as the second emancipation. Despite their shared achievement, tensions between King and Johnson grew as King became more active in protesting the war and advocating on behalf of poor Americans. Johnson’s decision not to run for president and King’s assassination-- both in 1968--again tied these men together at the high and low ends of a fateful period. — REVIEW. First published December 15, 2004 (Booklist).Vernon Ford
Going down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign
Michael Honey, (2007).
Labor scholar Honey examines the intersection between issues of race and economics in the U.S. in the 1960s from the perspective of the Memphis garbage workers’ strike, Martin Luther King Jr.’s last campaign. In rich detail, Honey lays out the background for the strike: the appalling working conditions and feudalistic “plantation mentality” of the white business and government sector, led by racist mayor Henry Loeb. Honey also profiles the garbage workers of Memphis, everyday men who toiled for little money, mostly former rural workers come to the city to earn more money. He details the complexities behind local politics and economics, the forced alliances between civil rights movement and local groups, the tensions between the two political parties as the issue of civil rights shifted loyalties, and the power of local white citizens’ groups. Honey explores King’s expansive view of how racism was woven into the economic fabric of the nation and his frustration at the difficulty of devising strategies that would lead to economic justicREVIEW. First published February 1, 2007 (Booklist).
Books by Dr. King
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1958).
The Measure of a Man
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1959).
Strength to Love
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1963).
Why We Can't Wait
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1964).
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1967).
The Trumpet of Conscience
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1968).
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., James Melvin Washington, (1986).
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. Clayborne Carson, (1998).
MLK: A Celebration in Word and Image
Photographed by Bob Adelman, introduced by Charles Johnson, (2011).
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
David Garrow, (1989).
Flip Schulke, Penelope McPhee, Foreword by Jesse Jackson (1986).
Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten 20th Century- Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Date:19 April 2011
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on.
Date:2 July 1964
Author:Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO)
To read more about Martin Luther King, visit the University of Michigan Press website at: http://www.press.umich.edu/titleDetailDesc.do?id=2779407