By John R. Dabrowski, PhD, Aviation Branch History OfficeJanuary 6, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights contributions to the Nation during the 25th annual holiday anniversary Jan. 17.
Fort Rucker hosts its commemorative program from 10-11 a.m. Jan. 13 at the Post Theater.
This year's theme is, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others'" Soldiers, Families, civilians and community members are invited to take part in this program featuring gospel singing, scripture reading and guest speaker, Judge Rose Evans-Gordon of Dothan.
King, known as a clergyman and civil rights leader, was born Jan. 15, 1929, at his family home in Atlanta. Historical accounts list King's many achievements and 13 years of civil rights activities. King was considered a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement. He was selected to head the Montgomery Improvement Association whose boycott efforts for 381 days from 1955-1956 eventually ended the city's policies of racial segregation on public transportation.
He was also a founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957-1968 and began lecturing nationwide, urging active nonviolence to achieve civil rights for African Americans. King was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. One included a protest of lunch counter segregation for which he was jailed. The case drew national attention. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy interceded to obtain King's release.
In 1963, King helped organize the march on Washington, an assembly of more than 200,000 protestors during which he made his famous "I have a dream" speech. The march influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. At age 35, he was the youngest man, second American and third black to be so honored.
The following year, King and the SCLC led a campaign for African-American voter registration centered on Selma. A nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery was attacked by police who assaulted and tear-gassed the marchers. The march only succeeded when federal troops were mobilized to protect the marchers along their route. The events in Selma provoked national outrage and months later public opinion precipitated passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Thereafter, King broadened his advocacy, addressing the plight of the poor of all races and opposing the Vietnam War.
King's plans for a poor people's march to Washington were interrupted April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated by James Earl Ray as King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The motel is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
King's final resting place is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. library complex, located close to his childhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Martin Luther King holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and it was first observed in 1986. Additionally, in 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action on the holiday instead of just taking the day off from work or school.
Participation in the King Day of Service has grown during the past decade. Many Americans work each year on projects such as tutoring and mentoring children, painting schools and senior centers, delivering meals, building homes, and reflecting on King's life and teachings. Many of the projects begun on King Day continue to involve volunteers beyond the holiday and impact the community year-round.
Editor's Note: Marti Gatlin contributed to this article.