Next Friday, 15th January, would have been Martin Luther King Junior’s 81st birthday.. it will also be my 57th!
I have always been very proud of the fact that Dr King and I share the same birthday. I was even more pleased when I heard that there was a campaign in the United States to get a special day’s holiday to be called Martin Luther King Day.
After a campaign, that included the issue of a brilliant song by Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday” . I looked up the Wikipedia entry on the history of the day and it said:
“The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.”
This year’s holiday therefore represents the 10th anniversary of its observation in all of the 50 states in the U.S.A.
The coming of this important date (for both of us) made me think about my own personal relationship with Dr King. I was born into a very politically aware family and I remember being acutely aware of the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, when, as a seven year old I was stopped in a concrete playground in my Primary school in Hackney, London and asked “Kennedy or Nixon?”
As the sixties happened I was aware of events unfolding in the United States. there was that evening in 1963 when television stopped for a newsflash that President kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. The events of the next few hours were of a family in London England crying for a young family man shot in the back of a (for us) strange looking car in a far away place.
Martin Luther King did not really come onto my radar until I saw television coverage of a march to Washington that ended with a famous speech… “I have a dream”.
I have listened to that speech so many times since I first heard it and it still moves me. I went to school in a very cosmopolitan part of a great city, London. I mixed with children of all races and creeds. I was born into a Jewish family myself and knew from an early age that some people didn’t like others because of what they were not because of what they were like.
I knew little though of the plight of the blacks in the United States. As I grew older I was able to find out about segregation and lynchings. I read the most marvellous novel that I have ever read in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. But it was Martin Luther King’s assassination that will always live with me.
1968 was bad year for my family. My mother had an ulcer that was making her lose weight fast and needed to go into hospital to have it sorted out. Just at the time when we had all arranged things and she was going to hospital my brother Stanley collapsed in pain one night and had to be taken to hospital!
My father, my youngest brother Philip and myself were left at home having to make visits to two different hospitals.
It was when we were visiting my mother in hospital that she recalled the events of the night before. We had heard about it on T.V. but life was a bit hectic to keep up at that point.
“The nurses were all crying last night,” she said, “over that Dr King bloke who was killed.”
It was to be the next in the series of assassinations in the troubled United States of the sixties that would end in Bobby Kennedy’s on June 5th in California when campaigning for the Presidency.
Only a couple of months earlier I had received a letter from Bobby Kennedy saying that he hoped that I would continue my (by then newly found) interest in America and politics.
This interest in politics would eventually see me going to Warwick University and gaining a degree in the subject (way back in 1976!)
Along the way I would learn much more about Dr Martin Luther King, his incredibly brave campaign to achieve civil rights for black people, the fact that he was abused, attacked, imprisoned and yet he would always state that he wanted non-violent protest (in the way of Mohandas K. Ghandi against British rule in India).
He was truly an inspirational figure and he was able to galvanize thousands to put their bodies at risk and protest about the conditions of black people in the U.S.A. He talked to Presidents and World leaders and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35.. the youngest ever recipient of this prestigious award.
Bearing in mind all of the above I certainly feel that a day named after him and celebrated on “our” birthday was an excellent idea.
I know there will be many celebrations taking place on Monday 18th January all over the United States and in many other parts of the world. I know that many students will be looking up the life and times of Dr King using the power of the internet.
I have found one particularly brilliant link to my story and my interest in e-learning. Doing my background research before writing this blog entry I found a Voicethread on Martin Luther King that had been done in a school in Virginia. The link is… http://www.quia.com/pages/mlking.html
Looking up Voicethread http://voicethread.com/#home I did a search using “browse” and found 13 different Voicethreads on MLK!
If you are reading this and are thinking about doing something on the life and times of this remarkable man with your class next week, then think about using Voicethread, the Virginia example above will show you the potential of it.
For myself I always think of him on our birthday which is of course, next Friday. If you click on the video below you will see Stevie Wonder singing us both a song!