PICKENS COUNTY — “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America,” wrote Coretta Scott King. “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.”
Unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence are hardly controversial ideals, and yet the holiday itself has been steeped in controversy since its inception — especially in the South.
Signed into law by President Reagan and first observed in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s birthday (Jan. 15) by marking the third Monday in January — which falls close to the date — as a Federal Holiday.
But not even 20 years ago, it wasn’t celebrated across the nation.
In fact, South Carolina didn’t recognize the holiday until the year 2000.
According to The King Center, adoption of the day as a federal holiday met early backlash from Senate Republicans and some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina.
According to records, states who challenged the holiday’s legitimacy stated they felt Martin Luther King Jr. was “too subversive” to dedicate a holiday in his memory.
Others, like New Hampshire and Utah, claimed it improper to name a day honoring the entire civil rights movement after “just one man,” calling the date instead “Civil Rights Day.”
Alabama, Arizona Mississippi and Arkansas combined the day with “Robert E. Lee Day.”
In 1994, legislation was passed creating The National Martin Luther King Day of Service. Unlike it’s predecessor, the day has been generally accepted and embraced by all.
The Day of Service challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action or volunteer service in honor of King and participation has grown steadily over the past decade.
“It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood,” said Coretta Scott King. “Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America.
“This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream,” she said.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.