Today commemorates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr, a date that has been set aside in the US as a national holiday since 1983. King would have been 89 this year.
King stands with George Washington and Christopher Columbus as the only figures to have holidays dedicated to them in the US.
The day is intended to be a time for reflection and a call for social activism and community engagement.
Over the years it has become indicative of community and service, with Americans encouraged to put their time and money towards those less fortunate.
2018 also marks 50 years since King’s assassination, lending extra weight to celebrations as many consider the progression (or stagnation) of American race relations.
Speeches, parades and events are annually held across the country, with around 42 percent of US businesses giving workers the day off to enjoy the celebrations. The US financial market closes for the day and museums, non-profit organisations and charities all hold free workshops, lectures and activities for the public.
Just under 500 national parks allow free admission in honour of the federal holiday — only one of four times in a year where entrance fees are waived (alongside National Public Lands Day, Veterans Day and the first day of National Park Week).
Though King’s legacy is felt throughout the world, few other countries pay homage to the activist. However Verdict found some slightly unusual places that still recognise his life and work.
The city of Hiroshima is one of the few places outside of the United States that observes Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) day. The celebration came about under former mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who annually held a banquet at the mayor’s office in commemoration of King.
The observance reflects a lesser-known part of King’s work as an anti-nuclear activist. He was a fervent and vocal challenger of nuclear weapons, saying that the use of bombs such as those seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki would turn the world into “an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.”
As a featured speaker at a MLK Day tribute event in 2005, Washington, DC, Akiba said:
“In Japan, we traditionally celebrate the coming of age for our young people on January 15th, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. On that day, I always tell our young people about the civil rights movement in the United States, to impress upon them the importance of electoral politics and nonviolent social change.
Though not recognised as a paid holiday, the city of Toronto in Ontario, Canada still celebrates Martin Luther King Day.
On the eve of this year’s holiday a number of speeches and events were held across the city, though the day itself will provide only a time for personal reflection on the activist’s life.
Among the events was one at Canada Christian College, organised by the Black Business and Professional Association. Attendees included Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto’s first ever black police chief.
Of the event Tory said:
In the most diverse city in the world we actually agree on one very important thing: we all want things to be better for the next generation…That is what Martin Luther King devoted his life to but neither he nor his memory can accomplish this alone. He told us we can all fight hatred and discrimination, we can all love, we can all serve so that kids can dream big.
King had paid homage to the importance of Canada in helping slaves find liberation in his Conscience for Change talk, saying “deep in our history of struggle for freedom Canada was the north star… far to the north a land existed where a fugitive slave, if he survived the horrors of the journey, could find freedom.”
Since 1986 the Dr Martin Luther King Tribute and Dinner has been held in Wassenaar in Holland.
However it is not held on King’s birthday itself, but on the last Sunday in January, bridging King’s birthday and Black History Month.
The event sees the attendance of veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and features music, ending with people gathering to sing We Shall Overcome.
This year’s program includes speeches given by people who knew King, a performance of ‘Music of the Civil Rights Movement’, a reading of I Have a Dream and a message from the United States Embassy.