Nine of the 10 federal holidays designated by Congress celebrate people and events of long ago. Today, we honor a man who died 46 years ago, and would be just 85 years old today if not for his assassination.
MLK Day -- officially known as the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., even though it is celebrated each year on the third Monday of January, and not King's actual birthday of Jan. 15 -- is the most recent of our federal holidays. It was passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 after an often acrimonious struggle of more than a decade. It wasn't until 2000 that South Carolina relented and became the final state in the nation to recognize the holiday. In 1992, Arizona chose to give up hosting the Super Bowl rather than honor King, missing out on the chance to see the Cowboys whip the Bills, 52-17.
Today's holiday is one of only four named for a single individual, along with Columbus Day, Washington's Birthday and Christmas. That's pretty lofty company, even for a leader as inspirational and influential as King. Which was one of the arguments raised by those who opposed the holiday.
But what we celebrate today is more than just one man. It is the efforts and the struggle of millions of men and women of all races who have demanded that our nation do more to live up to the promise of "liberty and justice for all." And, it is a recognition that while we have witnessed great change in our nation since the civil rights marches led by King in the 1960s, we still have a long way to go to realize his dream.
And that is why the authors of the bill, former U.S. Sen Harris Wofford and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, have decided that along with honoring the memory and work of King, today should also be a day of volunteer service to our communities.
The effort takes its inspiration for a quote by King: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"
It is in that spirit that volunteers will be out throughout the country today, doing for others in a variety of public service projects.
According to the mlkday.gov website, there were 1.3 million hours of service pledged by volunteers last year, including 10,103 veterans and military families. There was 194,875 pounds of food served or donated, 86,605 people who received emergency food assistance, 43,103 who received support or services to alleviate long-term hunger and 9.315 who received financial literacy services.
We don't think you have to wait for a holiday, though. As with Christmas and other days dedicated to giving and good deeds, we encourage everyone to get out of their comfortable rut -- any time of the year -- and try to make this world a better place.