Today is Martin Luther King day, an American holiday that is always celebrated on the third Monday in January. It’s almost 54 years since Dr King, a Baptist minister and lifelong campaigner, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, but the work to which he sacrificed his life continues.
MLK is most famous, for his “I had a dream…” speech, but the reality of civil rights activism is that it’s less about rallies and speeches and more a daily struggle for the most mundane of rights – a struggle that is played out in factories, playgrounds, homes and schools, well away from the cameras and microphones.
King was in Memphis in April 1968 to support African American sanitation workers who were deprived of the most basic of rights that their white counterparts enjoyed – the right to shelter from the rain, the right to shower after their shift, the lack of overtime payments. The final straw came when 2 black workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck and their families were barely compensated. The workers went on strike, and MLK went to support them.
In recognition of King’s contribution to the struggle for equality, Illinois was the first US state to acknowledge the holiday, and King was the first African American to have a national holiday in his honour.
The international struggle for equality continues. As King himself said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Read Dr King’s most famous speech in full. You’ll find it in LibrarySearch:
The Penguin book of twentieth-century speeches
Becoming King Martin Luther King, Jr. and the making of a national leader
By Lesley McRobb