Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

A history and remembrance of Dr. King and the importance of peaceful protest in light of recent events

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Becca Youngers

A commemoration to Martin Luther King Jr. from the Dowling Catholic Post. Picture from the Museum of Human and Civil Rights (2018)

Becca Youngers and Stella Logsdon

Today, January 18, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday celebrating the life and achievements of one of the most influential activists in American history. With recent events regarding protesting in present-day America, the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy have been reiterated to many Americans, including many students here at Dowling.  

 

The Dowling Catholic Post has recognized the importance of honoring Martin Luther King Jr., his impact on human and civil rights in America, and our job as a student publication to inform our community on the actions they can take to honor King’s legacy today and every day. 

 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.””

— Martin Luther King Jr.

History

 

The civil rights movement is one that gained momentum in the 1960s, and it resulted in one of the biggest social and political shifts in American history.  According to TIME, “The civil rights movement formed the guidebook for a new era of protest.” The work of King and other major civil rights activists fought to diminish the racist systems, laws, and policies on both a regional and national level. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 after years of campaigning from supporters of King following his assassination in 1968. 

Quote from MLK. Image taken in the Museum of Human and Civil Rights (2018) (Becca Youngers)

An important aspect of King’s work lies in the execution of the work itself. The method of peaceful protesting is one that ties hand-in-hand with King’s beliefs. Drawing inspiration from role models such as Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau, King’s priorities lied in maintaining nonviolent demonstrations against racism. According to TIME, “King became synonymous with nonviolent direct action as he worked to overturn systematic segregation and racism across the southern United States.” King’s commitment to nonviolence created supporters across the South, and eventually, nationwide. 

 

 

Parallels from a civil rights movement protest to a Black Lives Matter protest (Becca Youngers)

Protests of 2020: Black Lives Matter

 

Today, though, the divisive nature of our nation seems to be ever growing. King’s message of peaceful protesting continues to be at the forefront of many social and political movements and organizations. 

 

One of these organizations, Black Lives Matter, emerged into the spotlight as a driving force behind protests in the beginning of the summer following the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter, the organization, has been around since 2013, and their mission, according to their website, is that they are “working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise,” synonymous to that of the civil rights movement’s campaign. These protests, according to the New York Times, are “the largest movement in the country’s [United States] history.” 

 

The phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” alone became the basis of many of the demonstrations in the summer of 2020. Black Lives Matter, the organization, was not directly involved in all of the demonstrations, but according to the New York Times, “It [Black Lives Matter] provides materials, guidance and a framework for new activists.”

 

It is not unknown that many of these demonstrations in the summer of 2020 were met with extensive police security. These police forces carried and used tear gas and rubber bullets, most notably, on protesters. Though, according to TIME and ACLED, “more than 93% [of protests] – have been peaceful.” 

 

The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 defined present-day America, inspired by King’s words of, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

 

Still, though, many organizations and groups, driven by their personal ideologies, avoid the reiteration of the importance and vitality of peaceful protesting.

 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.””

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Protests of 2021: Insurrection at the Capitol

 

On January 6th, 2021, the insurrection of the United States Capitol building rocked the nation. Mostly right-wing conservatives, attempting to halt the congressional electoral vote count, rioted on Capitol Hill and sieged the Capitol building. The attack raised two major points of interest in many Americans: motive and security.

 

The motive is still being put into question, notably with the upcoming Senate trial after Trump’s second impeachment was confirmed. The questioning of President Trump arose due to his “Stop the Steal” rally earlier that morning that specifically included his insufficient claims of voter fraud.

 

The interest of security is brought up due to the direct comparisons with security from Black Lives Matter protests, which included armed National Guard members lining the Capitol steps, versus the Capitol riot, in which the National Guard was not at the Capitol until the rioters had breached the building. 

Art displaying all of the legal action that has been taken for civil rights from 1954-2003. Image taken at the Museum of Human and Civil Rights (Becca Youngers)

The motive of the events at the Capitol can also tie into security, as far more security was present at the Black Lives Matter protests, while their motive, as stated before, is to end the systematic targeting of black individuals. The motive of the Capitol rioters, in contrast, stems from belief of a fraudulent election that did not end in their favor. 

 

All information found on Capitol insurrection on NPR here and here.

 

 

Though the recent insurrection of the Capitol has deepened the divide and tension of America, Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves as a strong reiteration of the necessity of peaceful protest amidst the chaos. Using the words of King himself, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

 

What YOU can do

 

In the past years, King’s day has been celebrated with parades and marches, often including the presence of civil rights leaders. The day has commonly been seen as an opportunity for service back into the community, often called the MLK Day of Service, according to Britannica.

 

With the pandemic still in full effect, we have comprised a list of some things you can do this MLK Day, both in the Des Moines community, and nationally.

 

1. Meals From the Heartland packaging opportunity: January 18th

 

Meals From the Heartland will be packaging meals for one and a half hours on January 18th. There are multiple time slots available here.

 

2. Iowa Department of Human Rights MLK virtual celebration: January 18th 10:45 A.M.

 

Information here

 

3. MLK Zoom Prayer Breakfast (Des Moines YMCA): January 18th 8-9 A.M. 

 

Information here (donations are encouraged)

 

4. Des Moines Public Library Speaker: January 18th 3:30-4:30 P.M.

 

Register here

 

5. Museum of Human and Civil Rights “We Share the Dream” webinar.

 

The Museum of Human and Civil Rights is in Atlanta, Georgia, the birthplace of King, and they are holding a virtual webinar on King and the importance of informing society during modern movements and demonstrations like we have seen in 2020. More information here.

 

More information on 1-4 can be found on this document.

The mural on display in the entrance of the Museum of Human and Civil Rights (2018) (Becca Youngers)