How to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., on August 28. 1963. (©Wikimedia Commons)

By Jennifer McKee

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. Inspired by the teachings of Gandhi in seminary school, he later took up the same pulpit as his father and grandfather before him at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and ultimately became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 35, he became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Below are a list of physical sites and virtual events at which you can explore King’s legacy. One of the best ways to pay homage, however, is to incorporate days of service into your calendar—not only in the month of January—to help the less fortunate and oppressed. Get ideas at The Mission Continues.

The Center for Civil and Human Rights is a beacon in downtown Atlanta. (©Albert Vecerka-Esto)

Atlanta, the Cradle of Civil Rights Movement

Learn how the American Civil Rights Movement paved the way for today’s global civil rights movements at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Explore the galleries that offer a multi-sensory approach to the American movement, followed by a human rights gallery that details past and ongoing struggles from around the world. The museum’s centerpiece is its tribute to King: a collection of handwritten manuscripts, documents and personal effects. There will be special programming on Jan. 15 & 17 to celebrate MLK Day.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Park was established in Oct. 1980. Operated by the National Parks Service, the free experience is the centerpiece of Auburn Avenue, which ties together King’s home and work lives. Although its buildings are currently closed, you can visit the International World Peace Rose Garden and Gandhi statue, and get a feel for the area King frequented.

The King Center, adjacent to the historic site, is the final resting place of MLK and Coretta Scott King, who created the facility to serve as a repository for her husband’s important papers, works and memories. It’s also currently closed, but you can view the couple’s crypt atop the outdoor reflecting pool. Check out the virtual events that celebrate its 2022 King Holiday Observance.

Visit the final resting place of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King at The King Center in Atlanta. (©Frank Kehren/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Other Important Civil Rights Stops

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1991, the Smithsonian-affiliated National Civil Rights Museum was established there. Today, it is considered one of the nation’s most important cultural heritage museums. It walks visitors through the tumultuous battle for civil rights with interactive exhibits, films, oral histories and more.

Montgomery, Alabama’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice honors the victims of racial terror lynchings and racial violence in the 1950s, and provides people the opportunity to confront this legacy on the path toward reconciliation. The accompanying Legacy Museum looks at the history of the slave trade and sits on a site where Black people were forced into enslavement.

Pay homage to the civil rights struggle with a visit to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Pivotal in the quest for voting rights, it was the spot where police confronted protestors with beatings and tear gas on their march from Selma to Montgomery. The bridge is now a National Historic Landmark.

Dr. King was the first African-American to be honored with a memorial on the National Mall; the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial is made of two towering granite structures. Rangers are on site daily to answer questions about the memorial, and interpretive programs are available upon request.

Discover additional spots on the Civil Rights Trail here.

A historic marker at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (©Tony Webster/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Virtual Events

Please check the following event websites as some events require advance registration.

Pay tribute to Dr. King’s legacy on January 15 and also learn about the history of baseball’s Negro Leagues during Black Baseball Stories 2022: A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A whole slate of virtual activities is on tap in Charlotte beginning January 15, from a memorial service to a P.E.A.C.E. showcase to the MLK Medallion Award. Find more info here, and tune into WBTV.

The Newark Museum of Art hosts a virtual panel on art, equity and activism on January 16. Panelists include Jacari Harris, executive director of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, Nine Cooke John, architect and designer of Newark’s Harriet Tubman monument, and Linda Street, chief chick of the Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate, LLC.

View Richmond, Virginia documentary “Mending Walls,” online, then join a live panel presentation and breakout discussions on January 16.

The Atlanta History Center is doing a two-day virtual celebration on honor of Dr. King. On January 16, Robert Hamilton discusses his book “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.” On January 17, Mary Francis Early discusses her book, “The Quiet Trailblazer” with Hank Klibanoff.’

The San Francisco Interfaith Council hosts a virtual interfaith celebration, “Toward Justice” January 17 on Zoom.

Join the Missouri History Museum for virtual storytelling and youth activism workshops on January 17, in addition to virtual yoga set to gospel music on January 16.

Children at the Missouri History Museum’s 2015 MLK Community Celebration. (©Missouri History Museum)

RSS Augusta Magazine’s Front Porch

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