Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: More Than Just a Day Off

When you hear Martin Luther King day is coming up soon, what do you immediately think? Do you just see it as another day off?  The general population of the US does not truly understand why we have MLK day off. Some schools take this day to teach students about the legacy of MLK, but this is not common practice. 

I interviewed two RHS Seniors, Michael Bang and Vincent Picone to see what their thoughts on MLK day are and get a general example of how students regard the day. First, I asked them “What does MLK Day mean to you?” Michael responded with “To me, MLK day symbolizes the freedom and equality of white People and black people” and Vincent said “I visited where MLK died, so it means more to me than it may for other people. I think it’s a celebration of a very influential figure who changed the world peacefully.” Seemingly, most people understand who MLK was, and some of the things he did, but not entirely. 

Beginning in 1955, MLK led one of the first bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama. This bus boycott was a direct result of the arrest of Rosa Parks, who also lived in Montgomery at the time, and is where the Rosa Parks incident happened. This boycott lasted 381 days and was a success in the end. During the earlier days of the protest, MLK gave a speech and said There comes a time when people get tired…. tired of being segregated and humiliated… If you will protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love…historians will have to pause and say ‘there lived a great people—a black people—who injected a new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.” This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.” These speeches would become a huge part of his legacy, and why he is remembered today. 

Some may ask if one day is enough to honor MLK’s legacy, so I decided to ask this question to Micheal and Vincent. Vincent said “I think that it’s good we have the day off, but it should be celebrated throughout the month because it’s very important” and Micheal said, “ I think one day is enough because everyday people should be happy segregation is gone. This one day wouldn’t be as special if it was a month”  Both have different opinions, but they and almost everybody acknowledge how important MLK is. 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” These words will forever live in infamy, but many don’t actually know the context of them. In 1963 MLK led his March on Washington. This march gathered 250,000 people together for one of the largest civil rallies in American history.  This event is where MLK delivered one of the most famous speeches of all time.

On April 4th, 1968 MLK traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support a sanitation workers strike, and he had been staying in a hotel room for the time being. MLK had been standing on the balcony outside his hotel room when he was suddenly shot by James Earl Ray. Ray was a known racist and escaped convict, he had been imprisoned multiple times for robbing gas stations and other stores. Ray had been on the run for about a year by the time he assassinated MLK, and would eventually plead guilty and receive a 99-year sentence. In Martin Luther King Jr’s honor, he was given a national holiday which falls on every 3rd Monday of January. 

I asked interviewees Michael and Vincent why they think we celebrate MLK day, to see what their outlooks are. Michael said “It’s a very big step in history, society would be much different without it.” and Vincent said “To honor MLK’s legacy and the impact he had back then and on the world today”

It’s safe to say that without the contributions of MLK, society would look much different than it does today. 

Some may ask if MLK day should be a holiday, if it’s long enough, or if we should have the day off. Regardless of all these questions, everyone should understand and acknowledge MLK’s contributions to society and see MLK day as more than just a day off.