Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service

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The History of Martin Luther King Junior

It’s likely that if you’ve lived in the U.S. for even a brief period of time, you’ve come to know the name of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Revered as a man of the people, MLK is known for being a man of peace in times of strife within the civil rights movement from the 50s to the 60s. Many have studied his “I Have a Dream” speech, and he is still quoted as one of the kindest and smartest men in history to this day.

Though many know some of his accomplishments, we have listed below some lesser known things about MLK that may help understand this national figure and help to clarify why we celebrate his birthday.

  • In 1955, he became spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a campaign by the African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama to force integration of the city’s bus lines. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional as a result of their boycott that lasted 381 days.

  • In 1957, he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He would continue to serve as head of this organization until his assassination in 1968.

  • In 1963, many know MLK was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew over a quarter-million people to the national mall. He was then named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1964.

  • In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize until 1976.

  • In 1965, Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL March for Voting Rights lead by MLK.

  • When he finally accomplished his goal of having voting rights, he turned to economic equality until his assassination in 1968.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who never settled for the status quo and always knew we could do better as a country and global community. Throughout his life, he came to inspire millions and became one of the most revered individuals in history. This is why the nation chose to honor him with a day of service - because if he were still alive that’s exactly what he would be doing.

In the months after the death of the civil rights icon, Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan introduced the first legislation seeking to make King's birthday, Jan. 15, a federal holiday. The King Memorial Center in Atlanta was founded around the same time, and it sponsored the first annual observance of King's birthday, in January 1969, almost a decade and a half before it became an official government-sanctioned holiday. Three years after Conyers introduced preliminary legislation in 1968, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — which King headed from its inception until his death — presented Congress with a petition signed by more than 3 million people supporting a King holiday. There’s more effort than most know that went into this day becoming a holiday, and if you’d like to read more - feel free to look at TIME’s article.

After a struggle to bring about a day to honor a man that has become a pillar in the history of our country, President Ronald Reagan finally signed the King Holiday Bill into law on Nov. 2, 1983. Now every year on the third Monday in January, we pause as a nation to honor the man that shared his dream with all of America - that all men be made equal and that we all work toward the best we can be as a country, together. MLK is the man who took his dream and made it our dream.


“Because everyone can serve”

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As you may know, legislation signed in 1983 marked the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federal holiday. But in 1994, Congress Representatives John Lewis and Harris Wofford — both veterans of the Civil Rights movement and former friends of Dr. King — introduced and passed the King Holiday and Service Act to turn MLK day into a “day of action, not apathy,” designating the third Monday of January as a national day of volunteer service.

Instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action. The MLK Day of Service brings together people who might not ordinarily meet, breaks down barriers that have divided us in the past, leads to better understanding of ongoing relationships, and serves as an opportunity to recruit new volunteers for ongoing work.

Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. Participants in the agency’s AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs are leading and participating in projects across the country. The CNCS helps engage and promote projects across the United States for people to get involved on MLK day and to spread Dr. King’s message.

Over the past 6 years, the InterCorps Council has sponsored events with 869 volunteers for a total of 2,896 hours in Minnesota for MLK Days of Service. This year the ICC has set up 8 service sites around the Twin Cities and some in greater Minnesota. We are looking forward to see the results of this year’s Day of Service! Join us on January 21st in a Day of Service to spread Dr. King’s dream! For more information about our service sites and how to get involved, please visit the ICC MLK Day of Service page.

Learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

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