Tuesday, 18 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (24):
18 January 2022, Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr Day, an American federal holiday, is observed on the third Monday of January each year marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr on 15 January 1929

Patrick Comerford

I arrived in Valletta late last night for a city break in the capital of Malta. It was midnight before I reached my hotel, and have seen nothing of the city or the island yet. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This morning (18 January 2022), I am reflecting on the life of the Revd Dr Martin Luther King, who was commemorated with a public holiday in the US yesterday and who is remembered in the USPG prayer diary today.

Martin Luther King Jr Day is known officially as the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, and sometimes referred to as MLK Day. It is a federal holiday in the US marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year. Born in 1929, King’s actual birthday was on Tuesday 15 January 1929. The holiday is marked on Mondays nearest 15 January, so this holiday falls between 15 January and 21 January.

Martin Luther King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which protested against racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honour began soon after his assassination in 1968.

President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states of the US for the first time in 2000.

The idea of Martin Luther King Jr Day as a holiday was promoted by trade unions in negotiations. After King’s death, Representative John Conyers (Democrat, Michigan) and Senator Edward Brooke (Republican, Massachusetts) introduced a bill in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the House of Representatives in 1979. However, it fell five votes short of the number needed. Only two other figures have national holidays in the U.S. honouring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

Soon after, the King Center turned to support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when Stevie Wonder released his single ‘Happy Birthday’ to popularise the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as ‘the largest petition in favour of an issue in US history.’

Senator Jesse Helms and Senator John Porter East (both Republican, North Carolina) led the opposition to the holiday and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honour. Helms criticised King;s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing ‘action-oriented Marxism.’ Helms led a filibuster against the bill and alleged King had associations with communists. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Democrat, New York) declared the document a ‘packet of filth,’ threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it.

President Reagan originally opposed the holiday. When asked about Helms’s accusations that King was a communist, he said ‘We’ll know in 35 years, won't we?’ But on 2 November 1983, Reagan signed a bill into law to create a federal holiday honouring King. The final vote in the House of Representatives was 338–90 and the final vote in the Senate was 78–22. The holiday was observed for the first time on 20 January 1986, and is now observed on the third Monday of January.

Although the federal holiday was signed into law in 1983 and took effect three years later, not every US state chose to observe the January holiday at the state level until 1991. New Hampshire became the last state to name a holiday after King, which they first celebrated in January 2000.

South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees.

The observance of MLK Day has led to some colleges and universities in the US extending their Christmas break to include the day as part of the break.

Mark 2: 23-28 (NRSVA):

23 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 25 And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ 27 Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 January 2022) invites us to pray in these words:

On this day, we remember the life of Martin Luther King. May we honour his legacy by pursuing racial and economic justice through nonviolent means.

Yesterday: Saint Anthony of Egypt

Tomorrow: Saint John the Baptist

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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