Why We Honor
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
| Each year a fundamental question arises.
Young people especially want to know, "Why do we honor Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.? The following is a brief analysis which can be duplicated
and shared with schools, churches, organizations and the media.
our country's history, almost all black people came here as
slaves. Because people in the South felt they needed cheap
labor in building the land and because black people in Africa
knew how to farm land like that in the South, they were taken
from their homes and forced to come to America. Upon arriving
in this country, they were sold to whites as slaves without
rights or freedoms.
In 1776, the American
Colonies declared their freedom from Great Britain. In the
Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all
men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That is, Jefferson
declared that all citizens have the rights to be free from
oppression and have equal opportunities in pursuing their
goals. These ideals have been called the American Dream.
To best achieve these
ideals, the people of the United States developed their government
along democratic principles in which the people choose who
will lead them and decide which laws should guide them. The
Constitution is a document that tells how leaders are to be
chosen and how laws are to be made. The laws can be changed,
usually when a majority votes to do so.
However, in the new government,
slaves were not given the same rights as white people. They
were not given the opportunity to choose their leaders, start
businesses, own homes or go to school. Slaves were not allowed
to lead their lives in the ways they wanted. Yet, there were
many people, mostly people in the North, who wanted the slaves
to be free, but there was not a majority of the people in
the country who felt that way. Some states in the North had
outlawed slavery, but most blacks in the South remained slaves.
Free blacks in the North had more rights than slaves, but
they still did not have as many rights as white people.
Freeing the slaves was
a large issue in the Civil War. After that war, the slaves
were finally given their freedom through amendments to the
Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in
the United States, the
Amendment gave blacks citizenship and the Fifteenth Amendment
gave them the right to vote. Blacks became free citizens of
the United States, but many whites were not happy with this
change. They felt that blacks should not be treated as citizens
equal to whites. They passed laws to keep whites and blacks
apart. In 1896, the Supreme Court decided that the "separate
but equal" facilities legalized in the South did not violate
the 14th Amendment. Thus, blacks could not work with whites,
live in the same neighborhoods or send their children to the
same schools as whites. Even so, black people throughout the
nation contributed to the betterment of the country.
to give black people their rights never stopped, but the changes
were not enough. After World War II, many more people felt
that new laws were needed. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled
that blacks and whites could go to the same schools, saying
that "separate but equal" schools were inherently unequal.
However, many people still did not want to change. It took
a strong leader, a person who believed in peace and justice,
to win more freedom for black Americans. Martin Luther King,
Jr. was that man.
1955 and 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. helped change America.
He brought to the world's attention how unfairly blacks were
treated. He had the help of millions of Americans, but his strong
leadership and unprecedented power of speech gave people the
faith and courage to keep working peacefully even when others
did not. This led to new laws that ended the practice of keeping
people of different backgrounds apart, making life fairer for
will always remember the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Each
year, on the third Monday in January, we celebrate his birthday.
This is the first national holiday to honor an individual
black American. The legacy of Dr. King lives in each of us
and we are responsible to promote, teach and live the American