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Dream lives on in honor of King’s memory
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Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968 - In Memoriam," New York, N.Y.: Distributed by Personality Posters, [between 1968 and 1980]. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-100009
PINELLAS COUNTY – On Monday, Jan. 15, people of all colors will join together to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the federal holiday.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tenn., where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

According to a chronology of the MLK holiday posted at www.thekingcenter.org, four days after King's assassination, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation providing for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday.

In April of 1971, petitions with 3 million signatures in support of King Holiday were presented to Congress. No action was taken.

In 1973, Illinois became the first state to enact a law designating a state King Holiday. In 1974, Massachusetts and Connecticut enacted King Holidays.

In 1978, the National Council of Churches asked Congress to pass a King Holiday. In 1979, Coretta Scott King testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and Joint Hearings of Congress on behalf of a King Holiday.

In 1979, after Mrs. King organized a petition campaign for the holiday, President Jimmy Carter requested that Congress pass a national King Holiday law.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted down the holiday bill.

In 1980, Stevie Wonder released the song "Happy Birthday" in support of the holiday effort. Mrs. King asked Congress to support establishment of a National Historic Site in honor of her late husband.

In 1981, Mrs. King began a letter writing campaign that requested governors and mayors to declare a King holiday.

In 1982, she organized a march on Washington, D.C., attended by more than 100 organizations, in support of the holiday. Stevie Wonder funded a holiday lobbying office and staff. Mrs. King and Wonder presented petitions with more than 6 million signatures to Tip O'Neil, Speaker of the House of U.S. Representatives.

In 1983, the House of Representatives pass the King Holiday Bill, calling for the holiday to be observed the third Monday in January. The King Center organized a march on Washington, D.C., attended by more than 500,000 people, to urge the U.S. Senate and President Reagan to pass the King Holiday.

In October of 1983, the Senate passed the Holiday Bill and President Reagan signed it into law in November. The law officially established the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday, beginning in 1986.

The first national King Holiday was observed on Jan. 20, 1986. Seventeen states also observed the holiday, and by 1989, 44 states observed the holiday.

In 1994, Mrs. King asked Congress to support making the King Holiday an official national day of humanitarian service. She cited her late husband's statement; "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve."

In August of 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, making the holiday a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.

According to the Web site www.mlkday.gov, instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action.

"The King Day of Service brings together people who might not ordinarily meet, breaks down barriers that have divided us in the past, leads to better understanding and ongoing relationships, and is an opportunity to recruit new volunteers for your ongoing work," the Web site said.

Participation in the King Day of Service has grown steadily over the past decade, with hundreds of thousands of Americans each year engaging in projects such as tutoring and mentoring children, painting schools and senior centers, delivering meals, building homes, and reflecting on King's life and teachings.

King was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga. According to the biography posted at nobelprize.org, King had a distinguished educational career, including serving as president of a predominantly white senior class at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He received his doctorate from Boston University in 1955. While in Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.

In 1954, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. He was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for civil disobedience in Montgomery, Ala., when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. Her action violated Alabama law, requiring black people to give up their seats to white passengers. After her arrest, a one-day boycott marked her court date.

"To successfully challenge segregated public transport, however, the NAACP knew it needed continued action. The new pastor at the local Dexter Avenue Baptist Church became the leader of the boycott. His name was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. King insisted on nonviolent action to achieve the goal of justice." according to information at the Library of Congress.

King's efforts resulted in a 381-day boycott of the bus system. He was arrested, his home was bombed and he was subjected to personal abuse. Nevertheless, King's efforts paid off. On December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional.

In 1957, according to his biography, King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Between 1957 and 1968, he traveled more than six million miles and spoke over 2,500, "appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action," his biography said.

During those 11 years, he wrote five books, as well as numerous articles. He led a protest in Birmingham, Ala., and wrote his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which was considered a manifesto of the Negro revolution. He was arrested more than 20 times and assaulted at least four times.

He led a peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream." He spoke with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

He received five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963. At the age 35, he became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize and gave the prize money of $54,123 to the civil rights movement.
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