My office is not closed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They made it a “floating” holiday, meaning you can choose whether or not you want to observe the day. We are an office of about thirty, with three black employees. I did not ask, but I do wonder if the other two black employees will be taking the day off and if so, would there be chatter amongst everyone else for us not showing up? Giving credit to my office environment, I don’t believe so. Either way, the answer to that doesn’t really matter, as this day means more to me than just a day off from work really, one should not take today off simply because they are black, when there are more reasons why this day is important.
I know there are some who would be upset with their office for not closing on this federal holiday, but I’ve reasoned in my head as to why being upset may be a waste of time. For some people, the sacrifices of Dr. King and countless others of all races, would not change the privileges in life they receive. They would still have the same job, would have been able to attend their college of choice and would have been able to continue living life with little to no social limitations. Life for them then would be the same now. So this day and the man who it honors, does not seem so special. And it is their privilege to not have to understand the depth of this day, may God bless them for that.
Without the sacrifices Dr. King suffered, I would not be able to call myself a Georgia Bulldawg. For a long time, that great University in Athens, Georgia did not want people who looked like me to walk under The Arch, but rather the service entrance. My alma mater did not integrate until 1961, seven years after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) declared segregation in schools illegal. And integration did not come easy, as Mary Frances Early, Hamilton E. Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, were harassed and threatened daily for wanting to better themselves and for my benefit. There are buildings on that campus where I toiled for my degree, named after slave holding, racist, white supremacists. Men who probably rolled in their graves as I studied and graduated. Dr. King’s advocacy for integration helped that happen. Perhaps, I would not be employed at my current job. Dr. King’s infamous speech, “I Have a Dream” was given for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in August of 1963. To quote him a few months earlier, “Let the black laboring masses speak!” (May 7, 1963) and in July of 1964, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlawed racial segregation in the workplace. I have Dr. King to thank for that.
There are countless freedoms that we take for granted, that came at the hand and bloodshed of many before us. Dr. King, who stands as a great symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, was murdered, but his mission carried on. Though at times, it may seem as though he died in vain, there are reminders of why we must fight on. Until every living person can claim that they are free, socially, politically, religiously, we must fight on. Everyday we must fight to remember what has been, so that we may never repeat it.
Cause I’ve got my strength/And it don’t make sense not to keep on pushing
Curtis Mayfield was twenty-two years old when he wrote “Keep on Pushing”. Released in July of 1964, the same month and year as The Civil Rights Act of 1964 , this song is so telling of the times. The Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s saw many powerful events: the murder of the “Four Little Girls” in Birmingham (1963), freedom riders and sit ins, the creation of the Black Panther Party (1966) and the murders of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr (1965, 1968). The 60s were tumultuous and full of bloodshed. Yet, evident in Mayfield’s lyrics, there was also a great sense of hope and perseverance. There were so many socio-policitcal landmarks that occurred for the betterment of minorities and the United States. We must also note that the Civil Rights Movement paralleled the fight for independence in many African nations. It seems then that the fight for liberation of black people was an international struggle and brotherhood.
I try to make a conscious effort to never let the sacrifices of Dr. King and the everyday people, who lived and died for their rights as human beings, go in vain. So for me, taking the day off is not just some method of “sticking it to the man”, but rather a day of deep reflection and thanksgiving.
Look yonder/What’s that I see?/A great big stone wall stands there ahead of me/But I’ve got my pride and I’ll move the wall aside/And keep on pushing/Hallelulah/Keep on pushing