On November 2, 1983, former President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. We observed it for the first time on January 20, 1986 and thereafter every third Monday in January.
In May 1989, former President George H. W. Bush appointed Coretta Scott King to the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which Reagan also created to oversee the observance of the holiday.
For the past 22 years, I have commemorated this day with reverence for the life of service that Dr. King lived. History.com ran an imposing special hosted by Tom Brokaw showing important events in King’s life.
Integrating schools and public transportation, creating a nation in which all citizens have the right to vote, serve on juries, hold elected office, and own a home are attributed to being a fundamental part of Dr. King’s legacy, according to History.com.
But to me, it was more personal. When Dr. King started the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, I was riding in the back of the bus going to high school in nearby Phenix City.
When the Freedom Riders got hosed down and bitten by dogs on orders from Democratic Public Safety Commissioner and Ku Klux Klan member Eugene “Bull” Connor in January 1963,
I was married to a military man in nearby Fort Benning, Georgia and pregnant with my first child. We could defend our country, but couldn’t vote.
When Dr. King led the march from Selma to Montgomery on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, I was pregnant with my third child.
Many of us who couldn’t march with Dr. King served our communities in other ways. In the 1970s, I joined Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) and the Urban League to train blacks for entry-level employment and develop jobs for degreed professionals in corporate America.
As Florida State Chair of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), I assist our National Chairman, Roy Innis, in continuing Dr. King’s dream of making “Equality a Reality for All.”
CORE was intimately involved in organizing the bus boycott, the sit-ins, the marches and the Freedom Rides. The three civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, both young Jews from New York; and James Chaney, a young black man from Meridian, Mississippi, were CORE volunteers.
Founded in 1942, CORE is the third-oldest and one of the “Big Four” civil rights groups in the United States. Our website: www.core-online.org shows that “from the protests against ‘Jim Crow’ laws of the 40’s through the “Sit-ins” of the 50’s, the “Freedom Rides” of the 60s, the cries for “Self-Determination” in the 70s, “Equal Opportunity” in the 80s, community development in the 90s, to the current demand for equal access to information, CORE has championed true equality. As the “shock troops” and pioneers of the civil rights movement, CORE has paved the way for the nation to follow.”
In keeping with our intimate connection to Dr. King, each January, we at CORE host the largest MLK celebration in the country. We have honored hundreds of civil rights activists and ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things in honoring Dr. King’s dream, including the Revered Dr. T.D. Jakes, Usher, Muhammad Ali, former First Lady Laura Bush, Hank Aaron, Rosa Parks, Roy Ayers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
The 2007 acclaimed film, The Great Debaters, starring Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey, depicted the life of James Farmer, the co-founder of
CORE who also served as under-secretary of Labor for former President Richard Nixon.
CORE is the first civil rights organization in this country to be awarded a special non-governmental consultative status (NGO) at the United Nations, which has facilitated our mission in Uganda to eradicate malaria. Malaria kills between one and three million people yearly, 90 percent of which occurs in sub-Saharan Africa.
Before Dr. King, I feared for my life from Klansmen. Through OIC, the Urban League and now CORE, I am part of an elite group of pioneers who continue his dream by establishing, according to CORE’s mission statement, “the inalienable right for all people to determine their own destiny—to decide for themselves what social and political organizations can operate in their best interest and do so without gratuitous and inhibiting influence from those whose interest is diametrically opposed to theirs.”
Barbara Howard is president of Barbara Howard & Associates and the Florida state chair for C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality).