How Stevie Wonder helped create Martin Luther King Day

How Stevie Wonder helped create Martin Luther King Day

the Legacy Newspaper logoTHE LEGACY NEWSPAPER — On the evening of April 4, 1968, teen music sensation Stevie Wonder was dozing off in the back of a car on his way home to Detroit from the Michigan School for the Blind, when the news crackled over the radio: Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated in Memphis. His driver quickly turned off the radio and they drove on in silence and shock, tears streaming down Wonder’s face.

Five days later, Wonder flew to Atlanta for the slain civil rights hero’s funeral, as riots erupted in several cities, the country still reeling. He joined Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Diana Ross and a long list of politicians and pastors who mourned King, prayed for a nation in which all men are created equal and vowed to continue the fight for freedom.

Wonder was still in shock—he remembered how, when he was five, he first heard about King as he listened to coverage of the Montgomery bus boycott on the radio. “I asked, ‘Why don’t they like colored people? What’s the difference?’ I still can’t see the difference.” As a young teenager, when Wonder was performing with the Motown Revue in Alabama, he experienced first-hand the evils of segregation—he remembers someone shooting at their tour bus, just missing the gas tank. When he was 15, Wonder finally met King, shaking his hand at a freedom rally in Chicago.

At the funeral, Wonder was joined by his local representative, young African-American Congressman John Conyers, who had just introduced a bill to honor King’s legacy by making his birthday a national holiday. Thus began an epic crusade, led by Wonder and some of the biggest names in music—from Bob Marley to Michael Jackson—to create Martin Luther King Day.

To overcome the resistance of conservative politicians, including President Reagan and many of his fellow citizens, Wonder put his career on hold, led rallies from coast to coast and galvanized millions of Americans with his passion and integrity.

But it took 15 years.

In the immediate wake of King’s death, the political establishment was more concerned with keeping things calm, tamping down unrest, and arresting rioters and activists. It was a violent year—that summer the Democratic convention in Chicago exploded in chaos and another inspiring leader, Robert F. Kennedy, was killed by an assassin. The country seemed on the verge of civil war.

Conyers’ bill languished in Congress for over a decade, through years of anti-war protests, Watergate and political corruption, stifled by inertia and malaise at the end of the 1970s. The dream was kept alive by labor unions, who viewed King as a working-class hero, with protests that slowly built up steam. At a General Motors plant in New York, a small group of auto workers refused to work on King’s birthday in 1969, and thousands of hospital workers in New York City went on strike until managers agreed to a paid holiday on the birthday. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, led a birthday rally that year in Atlanta, where she was joined by Conyers and union leaders. By 1973, some of the country’s largest unions, including the AFSCME and the United Autoworkers, made the paid holiday a regular demand in their contract negotiations.

Finally in 1979, President Jimmy Carter, who had been elected with the support of the unions, endorsed the bill to create the holiday. Carter made an emotional appearance at King’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But Congress refused to budge, led by conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who denounced King as a lawbreaker who had been manipulated by Communists. The situation looked bleak.

By then, Wonder had matured from a young harmonica-playing sensation to a chart-topping music genius lauded for his complex rhythms and socially-conscious lyrics about racism, black liberation, love and unity. He had kept in touch with Coretta Scott King, regularly performing at rallies to push for the holiday. He told a cheering crowd in Atlanta in the summer of 1979, “If we cannot celebrate a man who died for love, then how can we say we believe in it? It is up to me and you.”



The Birmingham Times logo

By Ariel Worthy

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — During his 20-minute speech Jones spoke about the importance of justice and equality for all and why the American Dream and Dr. King’s Dream should be a shared vision.

“Together we have a responsibility to continue fighting for the American dream, Dr. King’s dream,” Jones said. “…to ensure that Alabama and our nation live up to the ideas of equality and justice.

“That doesn’t just mean justice in a courtroom,” he said. “…it means that children growing up in every community should have the same opportunities to succeed.”

The senator spoke in a packed Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center (BJCC) North Exhibition Hall filled with city leaders, organizers, activists, and citizens celebrate King Jr. Day.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott, Jefferson County Commission President Pro-Tem Sandra Little Brown and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox were among the officials on the dais.

But it was Jones who commanded the attention of the audience, many of whom helped get him elected to the Senate.

“I’m here today [as Senator] and it’s because you believed in me,” he said. “You believed in Alabama, you believed in this country, and you believed enough to devote your time and energy and enthusiasm to make my election possible.”

Jones said the breakfast is a chance to remember the sacrifices of not only King, but other foot soldiers who fought for justice. “People like Rev. (Joseph) Lowery, Jimmie Lee Jackson, the great Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy and my dear friend and colleague, John Lewis,” he said.

He also honored women who fought for freedom and justice.

“(These men) stood shoulder to shoulder with courageous women like Coretta Scott King, Recey Taylor, Rosa Parks, Virginia Foster Durr, Amelia Boynton (Robinson) and Annie Lee Cooper,” he said. “And in today’s climate we need to make sure that we recognize the courageous women of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Jones pointed out the critical need of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which he supports and the first bill he sponsored was to make sure funding remains in place for the program.

“Taking care of our children is not just an investment for their future, it is an investment in all of our futures.”

He talked about how “those who speak the loudest and gain strength through fear rather than consensus and compromise” let CHIP expire putting 150,000 Alabama children at risk.

“They refuse expand Medicaid, threatening the health of 1,000,000 Alabamians and the security of our rural hospitals,” he said. “They watched as children from certain zip codes got access to better education, and they did it generation after generation.”

He also pointed out that a lot of the rhetoric causing division is coming from the White House especially “when the President of the United States uses language that is not only beneath his office, but the antithesis of the values that we hold as Americans,” Jones said. “Every time we are faced with what seems like insurmountable difficulties we have risen to the occasion to confront it head on, and make no mistake, we will do it again.”

The senator pointed to the gains made by foot soldiers and King when faced with obstacles.

“Reject hatred, violence and fury,” he said. “We need to listen and learn from one another. We need to seek common ground even when it seems impossible.”

Jones concluded his speech by saying change in America will require “foot soldiers of today to make change.”

“It’s up to us, it’s our challenge,” he said. “After standing on that stage on Dec. 12 [election night] I know you know what to do.”

Jones said he didn’t have all the answers, “but I know that it will take more than gathering for breakfast once a year.”

The breakfast also included a unity candle lighting, a dance tribute from dancer Deitra Streeter to the song Rise Up by Andra Day, and 9-year-old Sergeant Jones who eloquently quoted King’s “I Have A Dream” speech from memory and with the crowd joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

55 years later, much work is needed to fulfill Dr. King’s dream in Minnesota

55 years later, much work is needed to fulfill Dr. King’s dream in Minnesota

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoby 

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at a time where the words he spoke were radical, important, and needing to be both heard and said. Fifty-five years later, we still have so much farther to go.

I echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words — 55 years later; our communities are still not free. We are still fighting against economic disparities, unequal pay for work, and an achievement gap that is hurting the youngest of us. But, I also echo Dr. King’s words when I say I have a dream. I have a dream for our community that lifts up all of us:

Senator Bobby Joe Champion

[/media-credit] Senator Bobby Joe Champion

A dream of better opportunities for employment — for an environment where local businesses can thrive and hire community members for jobs that pay a living wage.

A dream of better education for all of us — from our youngest students to the people who never thought they would make it to college, to those that have earned a degree and are returning to our communities to give back to the people that gave so much to them.

A dream of stronger relationships with our police force, and of an unwavering commitment from our public safety officers to protect and serve all of us.

A dream of true equity that moves our entire community forward, that moves all of Minnesota forward.

This continues to be our hope, and it is the hope that I carry with me to my work in St. Paul. As we head into session, I will carry these dreams with me and I will work as hard as I possibly can to make them a reality, to make our community proud, and to make our city and our state a remarkable place for everyone.

We must grasp the fierce urgency of now

We must grasp the fierce urgency of now

Minnesota Spokesman Recorder logoby 

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quote from his “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963.

Tina Burnside

Tina Burnside

Most people only remember the last lines of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But the quote above, also from that same speech, is what I want to focus on in thinking about the future of the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota.

Our community, city and state face serious problems of poverty, racial inequality and economic disparity. Minnesota ranks as the second-worst state for racial inequality for Black people with glaring disparities in which Blacks are incarcerated at higher numbers, have lower incomes, higher unemployment, and lower home ownership than Whites.

We can no longer take the “luxury of cooling off” to study the problem. We already know there is a problem. What we need are real solutions. Policies must be crafted in partnership with business, government and the community. This partnership must include Black voices and leadership.

We can no longer create solutions without listening to the people who are experiencing the problems, and we can no longer tell Blacks and other people of color that change must come gradually, or to wait.

It is 2018 — 55 years after Dr. King delivered his famous speech. As Dr. King said, we must be reminded of the urgency of now. There is no time to “cool off” or proceed gradually. Now is the time to make the promises of democracy a reality and not just a campaign slogan, soundbite or hashtag.

Tina Burnside is a civil rights attorney and writer.

A Day Off, But a Day to Remember: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018

A Day Off, But a Day to Remember: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018

By Dylan Deprey

MILWAUKEE COURIER — When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he was not hoping to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

When his family was in danger and their house was bombarded with bottles and flames, having a street named after him wasn’t even a thought.

When he marched amongst thousands and gave his monumental “I have a Dream Speech,” he wasn’t speaking to go into the history books.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for peace and justice in a country where freedom rang, yet separate but equal was the norm.

There were plenty of people that wanted to kill him and the other “colored folk” reversing the racist tides of Jim Crow, yet he worked until the last seconds his life was taken.

In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national holiday. The day is observed every third Monday in January, and it focuses on keeping King’s legacy alive. The day is meant to teach our youth about the strides we have made and the struggles we still face, and to celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy.

Just as Milwaukee’s own Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive inches closer and closer to its full potential, it is a beacon of hope for other neighborhoods in the city that also emit positive energy for long-awaited change.

As for MLK Day 2018, there are several meetings and events scheduled across Milwaukee, which happened to be one of the first cities to originally celebrate the National holiday.

Some are using the day to celebrate, others to educate and also to congratulate.

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts will be hosting the 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration on Sunday, Jan. 14. The program will take the stage at Uihlien Hall and highlight the communities’ youth, who every year interpret Dr. King’s words through an art, speech and writing contest.

Other organizations celebrating include: United Indians of Milwaukee, Latino Arts Strings, Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team, O.N.F.Y.A.H, MPS’ Milwaukee High School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble and more. The event will conclude with the Paulette Y. Copeland Reception in Bradley Pavilion.

The MLK Library will host a day’s worth of family friendly events including: arts and crafts, voter rights presentations, and live events like spoken word poetry with Kavon Cortez Jones and traditional African dance with Ina Onilu Drum and Dance Ensemble.

The Milwaukee YMCA will host the largest Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event in Wisconsin. The 21st Annual Celebration Breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. brings together elected officials, advocates and the community to celebrate those pushing the envelope for change and opening doors for everybody in every community.

“Today we celebrate those who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to making our community a better place for all. Now more than ever the spirit of community service can help heal our differences through a common cause—giving back and strengthening the places where we live, work and play is something we all can agree on,” said Shaneé Jenkins vice president, social responsibility & strategic partnerships for the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

Both the Hunger Task Force and Employ Milwaukee will be honored for their longstanding commitment to making the city a better place for all by supporting health, wellness, diversityand inclusion.

The breakfast program will also recognize the winners of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spoken Word Contest. The three finalists in each age category (5-9 years, 10-13 years and 14-18 years) were selected after writing an original spoken word piece based on the theme, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”