President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy New Delhi)
President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy New Delhi)

BY ERIC G. CZAJKA

It is winter in Nashville, Tenn. You’re assaulted at the counter of a local diner for refusing to leave. The sit-in results in dozens of arrests – in 1960 this diner caters to whites only.

Jump to Birmingham, Alabama, the spring of 1963. The Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign is in full-force. You’re sprayed down with a fire hose and police dogs are let loose on the crowd – forcing you to vacate the streets. Officials claim protesters are “breaching the peace” by fighting for equal rights. Hundreds are arrested.

America in the 1960’s was a special time and place to be involved. It holds a place in history that can only be paralleled by a few other movements. The early years started with the Civil Rights Movement – the goals of desegregating the country, ending Jim Crow laws and abolishing racism were abundant. As the decade progressed, the Civil Rights Movement was in full force along with anti-war protests. Groups such as GIs for Peace threw down their weapons to fight serenely aside Martin Luther King, who emerged as the leader of the greatest peace movement the United States has ever seen.

He was more than merely a leader – he was the culmination of an idea. A simple idea, a process of thought, that all people are equal. Hundreds of thousands of people united under his leadership. People from every race, creed,and belief united – fighting against old, hateful ways. United they stood, abolishing segregation laws and fighting for equality. It was a unique time in history where a battle for the greater good would be fought. The belief that what they were doing was important and significant prevailed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is the personification of American ideals and basic rights. He united people, and lobbied for changes in society that forever altered the face of America. Without a doubt, he should be remembered and honored with a Federal Holiday and furthermore, everyone who sacrificed for their rights should be honored with Black History Month.

When debating the issue of King’s birthday being recognized as a holiday and the importance of Black History Month, it is vital to remember the historical significance that King and other leaders played in the development of the United States post-WWII. Without King, the progression of the Civil Rights Movement would have been much slower and the movement may not have restructured and reformed society to the degree that it did.

It is my belief that the majority of people who do not agree with the holiday are either misinformed about King’s accomplishments, or doubt the true scope of his leadership. It appalls me that up until 2000, not every state in the Union recognized the holiday – even though it has been nationally observed since 1986. For example, a South Carolinian, up until 2000, had the choice to honor King’s birthday or to choose from one of three Confederate holidays such as January 19, which was General Robert E. Lee’s birthday, or March 11, which is Confederate States Constitution Day.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, racism and discrimination are still alive and well in the United States. It is a scary thought that a blatant disregard of a Federal Holiday existed until recently and that a blatant disrespect for a King still exists. King led protesters fighting for civil rights with love, humility and compassion – and we should honor and respect him by continuing to fight for equality.