If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, he would be turning 86 this year—on Thursday, January 15. In honor of his birthday, and in light of the recent racial turmoil sprouting across the U.S., it is an appropriate time to reflect on the history of the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—to remember where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and how much further we still have to go. These Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events sprawl from Selma, Alabama to Denver, Colorado, but each refreshes our memory about the infinitely wise teachings of Dr. King, who was changing the world with his words and actions less than 50 years ago.
Selma to Montgomery, Alabama
Some of us only recently learned about the 54-mile march Dr. King embarked on with thousands of voting rights activists from the recently released film Selma. It turns out 2015 is actually the 50th anniversary of this iconic series of marches that led to the Voting Rights Act later that year. To commemorate this event, you can walk along the Edmund Pettus Bridge, now a historical landmark, where state troopers and county members violently assaulted the non-violent protesters, which is why this particular day has been coined “Bloody Sunday.” You can also walk along Route 80, where protesters marched through rain and freezing temperatures to reach Montgomery.
Dr. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, so there are a variety of places where you can pay your respects in his hometown. For a glimpse into his early life, you can visit his birthplace on Auburn Avenue or Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King was baptized and later became a minister. You can also visit Dr. and Mrs. King’s resting site in the Reflecting Pool at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change or the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, one of five World Peace Rose Gardens around the world. Atlanta is also home to the Behold Monument, which embodies the principles of his accomplishments.
Washington, D.C. is generally home to the majority of MLK Day events, and this year will be no different. In D.C., you can visit the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, and where children of the Watkins Elementary School will present the speech once more. At the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, you can read some of his lesser-known quotes and participate in the wreath-laying service on January 19 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. D.C. will also be hosting a parade on January 19 at 11 a.m., which will begin at Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave SE and Milwaukee Place SE. Later, check out the AFI Silver Theater for a free screening of the documentary King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio takes things up a notch by hosting a 12-day Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration called Dreamweek, which began on January 9 and ends January 20. Dreamweek includes lectures, workshops, readings, luncheons, and galas, ending with the Martin Luther King, Jr. march, which is expected to draw over 100,000 attendees.
Philadelphia holds the nation’s largest Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event, the Martin Luther King Day of Service, which is less of an event and more of a volunteer initiative. Tens of thousands of people donate their time every year to provide services for those in need, and more than 115,000 people have attended in past years. You can register your own project, sign up to volunteer for a existing project, donate goods or funds, or attend seminars. The event will take place on January 19 this year and will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
In Denver, you can attend both the annual “Marade” (march and parade) and the African American Rodeo of Champions. The Marade will begin at 10 a.m. on January 19 at City Park. When the marade later arrives at Civic Center Park, cake will be served, and you can sign the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yearbook at the Colorado State Capitol Building. Later that night, hit up the rodeo, where you’ll learn how African American cowboys and cowgirls played a substantial part in Western history. This event begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the National Western Complex.
By Brittany Malooly for PeterGreenberg.com