Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will forever be synonymous with his groundbreaking civil rights work and the third week of January honors this man and his legacy, a day that local officials agree is one of the most important of the year.
"The reason why we celebrate it . . . he stood for the quality and justice and achieving that through active involvement in raising conscioussness," said Westwood Town Administrator Mike Jaillet. "That's why we remember him. It's what he and others, as a leader, got us to strive for."
Born in 1929, King grew up drawing inspiration from nonviolent activists like Mahatma Gandhi. Opposing the Jim Crow laws and other segregation acts, King became involved in a plethora of civil rights movements during the 1950s, including the famous Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.
During the following decade, King organized some of the largest civil rights events in history, including the March on Washington in 1963 in which King offered his “I Have a Dream” speech, arguing for equality among all people.
Through all of his campaigns, King was met with both acceptance and resistance, the latter of which culminated with his assassination in 1968.
To commemorate the work of Dr. King, supporters moved to declare Jan. 15 (King’s birthday) a federal holiday, beginning with Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Infoplease reports. President Ronald Regan eventually signed the King Holiday Bill in 1983, declaring a holiday on the third Monday of January.
"This holiday gives us a chance to reflect on Martin Luther King's message of non violence, of human rights and social justice, and to remind us that we're all in this togeher," said Westwood Board of Selectmen Chair Pat Ahearn.
The day did not instantly become a holiday in all states, but Massachusetts was among the first in the nation to pass its own bill, enacting a holiday in the 1970s, according to Time Magazine.
King’s message of peace is so far-reaching, in fact, that officials in Memphis, Tennessee, the city in which he was killed, want to name a street after him to forever commemorate his positive work, reports The Associated Press.
"We've made signifciant progress," Jaillet said. "The fact that the top nation in the world has a person of a color in the oval office is a signficant achievement in our striving for true equality to everyone. [But] we've still got a ways to go. There's more to be done yet."
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we ask you to share you own stories of standing behind your beliefs and championing equality. Tell us your thoughts on the holiday and the legacy behind it in the comment section below.