We all know the typical history facts that are regurgitated in school about Dr. King. His infamous “I Have a Dream” speech was given on August 28,1963. However, when I examine his life from his day of birth, I see that he was born into a hard life and time. He was born eight months before the Great Depression started in 1929. This worldwide event continued for four subsequent years. By the time that he turned eight, the Great Depression turned into the Recession, with the national unemployment rates at 25%.
Despite the circumstances, he graduated from Booker T Washington at the age of 15. By the time he became 26 years old, he became a Morehouse graduate and received his Doctorate from Boston University. His Civil Rights work changed the history of America forever. The amount of times that he was arrested, beaten, and threatened in the name of justice for ALL, is enough to make any human's stomach turn.
Dr. King didn’t sign up to be a martyr, but on April 4th of 1968 he became one. I imagine him to have been a man with convictions that he saw were bigger than the penalties for continuing on his path. For his courage I am forever grateful, and completely saddened by the price he and his family paid as a result of it. He was 39 years old when he was assassinated. I am sure that he would have been a man that would have loved to grow old and look at the fruits of his labor, while he raised his grandchildren. He deserved to grow old and retire. I can only imagine the strength that it took for Coretta Scott King to see the daily pain that her husband, herself and her children endured. I am sure that there were many days that she wanted for a “normal” life. However, her sacrifice of time with her husband allowed us to be able to imagine a better country and take steps towards it even today.
It took fifteen years of fighting for MLK Day to be declared a legislated national holiday. He died in 1968 and the holiday was declared in 1983. It took three years for the first celebration to happen (1986). He was the first private citizen to be honored in all of American History. The first attempt for the holiday was made 4 days after his assassination by John Conyers, then a Democratic Congressman from Michigan.
(Coyers was the longest serving African American member of Congress in U.S. history)
He tried for many years to get this bill passed. The Congressional Black Caucus joined the fight for years alongside Congressman Conyers and so did the justice loving citizens, with marches. In the early eighties, they were able to gather six million signatures and Stevie Wonder blessed us with the song that many of us sing at Birthday celebration, ”Happy Birthday”. After the demonstration by the civil rights movement veterans on the 20th anniversary of Dr. King's delivery of the infamous “ I Have a Dream” speech the bill was put on the floor once again in 1983.
Jonathan C. Katzenellenbogen/Getty Images
Just when momentum was growing, the legislation was filibustered by Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina. Helms wanted to introduce material from the FBI that would tarnish King’s name. However, a senator from New York would not have it! Daniel Patrick Moynihan threw the files to the middle of the floor in disgust at the height of the debate.
Jesse Alexander Helms Jr. Republican Senator from North Carolina TheHill.com
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The next day the debate was passed (78-22) and President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation immediately. However, he did have the following comments. watch video
Finally, in 1986 the law was passed. However, there were many states that were continuously in opposition of the observance of Dr. King’s birthday. It took seven years for a final referendum toward success in 1992. Then it took another eight years for every state in the union to finally recognize Dr. King’s birth and contributions to this country.
In total, it took thirty-two years from his death to celebrate this man, who had a dream. His courage gave many of us the courage to dream also. Congressman Conyers had a dream to have this holiday realized for over thirty years. As a child I didn’t understand the amount of struggle that was made for this holiday. As an adult, I appreciate the struggle for a dream in a very different way.
I started this leather accessories brand Amber Poitier, because I also had a dream of designing and selling statement leather jewelry and leather bags that celebrated women who were not oftentimes showcased as the ideal depiction of beauty. My dream has been for women to remember their strength and contribution to their selves, their family, their community, this country and this world (not at the expense of men... just want to be clear). It goes without saying that I am thankful to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for so many things. I am also grateful to Coretta Scott King, Stevie Wonder, Congressman Conyers and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for their courage to see the mission through to honor a man who had a Dream.