America pauses Monday to remember the contributions and the sacrifices made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an important leader in the civil rights movements during the 1950s and ’60s who fell to an assassin’s bullet in 1968.
The holiday commemorates King’s birthday, which actually falls on Jan. 15. State and federal offices will close, and local plans call for a scholarship banquet today, with a procession through downtown and a celebration Monday at St. James United Methodist Church.
Many Americans, especially younger ones, don’t realize the kind of barriers King and others — Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Medgar Evers and the thousands of brave people who stepped forward to march — helped push aside.
America in the mid 1950s and early 1960s was a different place, especially in the South. African-Americans were prohibited, by law, from shopping in the same stores, eating in the same restaurants, holding the same jobs, riding the same buses and even drinking from the same water fountains.
There were counties in the South where black residents were the majority, yet none were allowed to register to vote. And if they tried, they faced violent reaction that included arson, bombs and lynching.
King and others led marches and other activities to bring national attention to the injustice and prejudice American citizens of color faced every day. They suffered numerous hardships to stand up for their freedom. Their struggle was long, bloody and — after years of effort — somewhat successful.
While it is King we honor Monday, no effort on this scale could be completed alone. Thousands of Americans — white and black — joined in the civil rights movement to open the doors of equal opportunity for all.
The journey started 60 years ago continues. While the path has become smoother in many ways, as long as prejudice and fear control the actions of a few, the destination remains out of reach. That’s why Monday is such an important day. It serves as a reminder that work remains to be done.