Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., hardly needs an introduction. His role as a civil rights activist is firmly cemented in the fabric of our nation’s history. The history behind celebrating his birthday, however, is a little less well-known to most Americans.

While the initial call for adding Martin Luther King Jr. Day to the calendar happened immediately after King’s assassination in 1968, it wouldn’t become federal law until 1983. Three years later it was observed for the first time federally, and all 50 states followed suit by 2000. It falls on the third Monday of January in honor of his birthday on the 15 and was the first federal holiday honoring a modern private citizen.

King was an activist, but also a servant of his community. In keeping with his service, the unofficial slogan of MLK Day is, “a day on, not a day off.” It’s a challenge to all of us not to simply kick back on a federal holiday, but to consider how we can affect our communities through service to one another. In fact, in 1994 President Clinton signed federal legislation encouraging Americans to treat the holiday as a day of volunteering in honor of King’s memory.

Locally in the Black Hills, the holiday is marked by gatherings in remembrance of King’s activism and a look at how our community can come together in times of strife. A celebration of his life and work is held every year in Rapid City at the Holiday Inn Rushmore Plaza downtown. Schools around the hills usually celebrate with volunteer projects and food drives, but are unable to this year. However, with the ongoing pandemic, we have neighbors in need more than ever, both on and off base. Even though organized volunteer activities are scarce this year, we encourage everyone to consider adding community service to their routine.

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