The Making of the MLK Holiday

The Washington Informer
Thursday, January 17, 2008
By Carlton R. Van Lowe, WI Contributing Writer

At the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an astute panel discussed the making of the Martin Luther King Holiday Monday evening. The panel emphasized that the holiday is important for the soul and honesty of the United States of America, saying that the holiday in many ways makes the Constitution truthful because the holiday pits Dr. King as important a figure as the founding fathers in their quest to make the equality of all people recognized. Giving the history of events that led up to the making of the holiday the panel including, Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), president of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Elsie L. Scott, Washington Informer publisher Denise Rolark-Barnes, and Moses Boyd, of The Washington Group, discussed Dr. King as someone who was not always so reverently followed. When he was alive, he was seen by some as a trouble maker. Also, many opposed making his birthday a federal holiday because that distinction had been reserved for President George Washington, and Jesus the son of God.

"When he was taken so very violently, it grabbed people," said Conyers. "So I said what is the greatest thing we could do to honor this man? And, I said the greatest thing is to have a holiday honoring this man." Conyers said King's widow, Coretta Scott King, concurred and joined him, entertainer Stevie Wonder, and others who championed Conyer,s bill to make the third Monday of January Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday. Conyers said that another driving force behind getting the bill passed was an enthusiasm for Dr. King's legacy that grew stronger over the years.

Scott, who worked with Black legislators, said advocacy groups, trade unions, Stevie Wonder's involvement, and states introducing bills for Dr. King's birthday as a holiday all contributed to the national bill being passed. More than 6 million signatures were gathered on petitions. That was the most petitions ever submitted to pass a bill.

Looking back at the history of the bill, Rolark-Barnes remembered the riots that ensued after the assassination of Dr. King. "I saw the anger but I knew something good had to come from this. It took 15 years to get a bill," she said.

Rolark-Barnes also spoke of the 2nd Annual Peace Walk observed on the Dr. King Holiday. "Why are we doing a peace walk? Because streets not far away are filled with violence. Guns are accessible…kids are dropping out of school," she said. "And so it's a day on not a day off."

The audience was enamored by the presentation of how the King Holiday became federal law. "This is huge. To have this opportunity was to me a tremendous opportunity. And a little emotional," said Rose Mary Rodriguez. "It's wonderful to see Dr. King's life commemorated."

To watch this Avoice panel discussion click here.

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