Arizona resisted observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day until the year 2000. Even now, the holiday is known as Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day. I don't remember this holiday from my childhood, which makes sense because the bill wasn't passed by the government until 1983, even then with presidential resistance. Former president Ronald Reagan opposed the holiday, but was forced to sign the bill when Congress passed it with a veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate). The holiday was first observed in 1986.
No wonder I don't recall anything about it. That was my sophomore year in high school, the year I moved with my family from Tucson to a small town (pop. 1200) in Central Illinois. I was too busy trying to reassemble my shattered adolescent life to keep up on those kinds of current events. As an adult, though, I admit I'm grateful for a three-day weekend. I admit I know little about Dr. King and his beliefs, his fight, his legacy. Yet I suspect my beliefs line up pretty well with his, judging from this quote:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King tackled a difficult job when he took on human rights. If he had lived forever I don't think his work would ever be done. In his short lifetime he performed to the best of his ability, at great personal cost. Early this morning I watched a tribute on Democracy Now! that showed footage of Dr. King speaking, marching, mugging, but rarely smiling. Accompanying the footage was the audio of his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. Near the end of the speech, Dr. King said:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.
The next day he was assassinated. His autopsy revealed a 60-year-old heart in his 39-year-old body, evidence of the stress, the wear and tear, the price he paid for his 13 years of work in the civil rights movement.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, that we should honor him not just today but everyday, in the way we treat others and the way we treat ourselves.