January—Martin Luther King Jr. Day

WSU Vancouver recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday marking King’s birthday. Since 1983, the King holiday has been observed on the third Monday of January each year. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 (King's birthday) and the latest is Jan. 21.

King is widely regarded as America's pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest social justice leaders in world history. King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech, Nobel Peace Prize lecture and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are among the most revered orations and writings in the English language. His accomplishments are now taught to children in the U.S. of all races, and his teachings are studied by scholars and students worldwide. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor and is the only non-president memorialized on the Great Mall in the nation’s capital. He is memorialized in hundreds of statues, parks, streets, squares, churches and other public facilities around the world as a leader whose teachings are increasingly relevant to the progress of human beings.

King's pivotal leadership in the modern American Civil Rights Movement spanned nearly 13 years, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968. During this time, he led several important achievements from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a campaign by the African American population of Montgomery, Ala. to force integration of the city’s bus lines. After 381 days of nearly universal participation by citizens of the Black community, many of whom had to walk miles to work each day as a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional. In 1963, King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew more than a quarter-million people to the national mall. It was at this march that King delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights. King was later named Time magazine’s, “Man of the Year.”

In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo is thought by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event, climaxing at one point with the oft-quoted phrase, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Therefore, right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” That same year, partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against Black people and historically minoritized people in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation, areas which at the time were still very segregated in many places. In 1965, Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African Americans, who in some locales had been almost completely disenfranchised. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights led by King.

Between 1965 and 1968, King shifted his focus toward economic justice and eradicating poverty and hunger. He led several campaigns in Chicago. King was also a proponent of international peace, which he championed by speaking out strongly against the Vietnam War. His efforts culminated in the "Poor Peoples Campaign," which was a broad effort to assemble a multiracial coalition of Americans who would advocate for economic change. King's nonviolent leadership ended abruptly and tragically on April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. King's body was returned to his hometown of Atlanta, where his homegoing ceremony was attended by leaders of all races and political stripes.

Later in 1968, King's wife, the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King (April 27, 1927 – Jan. 30, 2006), officially founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she dedicated to being a living memorial aimed at continuing King's work on the important social ills in the U.S. and around the world. Mrs. King affectionately referred to the Martin Luther King Center as their "fifth child" alongside their four children, the late Yolanda King (Nov. 17, 1955 - May 15, 2007), Martin Luther King III, Dexter King and Bernice King. The children of Martin and Coretta King have continued the King legacy as civil rights leaders and champions of embedding nonviolent philosophy and methodology across all systems and structures of society.

  • Source cited, including direct quotes: The King Center, Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr.

Additional resources commemorating Dr. King

WSU Vancouver Recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (campus statement)

The BaCE Program Center for Intercultural Learning and Affirmation

The King Center

8 Speeches from Dr. King that aren't "I Have a Dream"

Letter from Birmingham Jail