This Monday will be a holiday in the V.I. and across our nation to a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If he were alive today he would have been 78 years old. It is amazing how long it took for this day to be celebrated. It took 15 years to create this federal holiday. Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress. It took two representatives to continually push for this holiday to become a reality. Conyers and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Democrat of New York, resubmitted King Holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Public pressure for the holiday continued during the 1982 and 1983 civil rights marches in Washington. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. A compromise moving the holiday from Jan. 15, King's birthday, which was considered too close to Christmas and New Year's, to the third Monday in January helped overcome opposition to the law. The Virgin Islands was one of the first, if not the first place to recognize this day as a local and federal holiday for Dr. King.
Last fall there was a very important ground braking ceremony in Washington D.C., a Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been planned to be built on a four-acre site along the Tidal Basin. This great civil rights leader and humanitarian will be given a proper and proud place for him on the Mall adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and on a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Getting to this momentous ground breaking celebration was of major achievement. According to the web site www.mlkmemorial.com, on September 28, 1996 the U.S. House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 70 authorizing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to establish a memorial in Washington, DC to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Senate followed by passing Joint Resolution 426 on October 3, 1996, and on July 16, 1998, President Clinton signed a Joint Congressional Resolution authorizing the building of a memorial. I recently heard President Clinton on C-SPAN making his remarks on the historical significance of the memorial along with Oprah Winfrey and many others. All of the speakers spoke with such heartfelt thanks to Dr. King and his family. It was so unfortunate that his wife, Coretta Scott King passed away but I know she was there in sprit. Even though it rained intermittently throughout the ceremony, it was a sunny but somber day in this gloomy world of strife, injustice and war.
I feel that here in the Virgin Islands we should contribute as much as we can to help build this site in his honor. Without his continued persistence for equality and equal rights for all, the world would not be as it today. However many, many more must be done to continue his dream and we must not forget his words and deeds. The Memorial will be a way for us to reflect on his dream for a better world. I urge you to go on line to www.mlkmemorial.com to make a contribution or join St. Thomas Road Runners Association this Saturday, January 13 at Vitraco Mall for a run and walk event at 7 am. I am proud to say that many groups held events to honor his legacy. Many of us carry his sprit and vision of what can and should be done at home, in the Caribbean, the nation and world. The Hebrew Congregation has been for many years have been providing educational bonds and awards to our children in his honor. Last year the Interfaith coalition celebrated the day on St. John with the theme of "One Person Making a Difference." Many individuals, leaders and religious people came out to the event. On St. Croix the Central Labor Council had its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. While on St. Thomas an event was held in Emancipation gardens. All of these events were fantastic.
At the STAR event, Professor Roy Watlington will be making a few remarks about the life and times of Dr. King. I hope that we will have a great turn out this Saturday. The proceeds of this event will be given to the foundation. Please live the dream of Dr. King not only Monday, but every day.
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