Next Monday, amid the national observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the Atchison Ministerial Alliance will come together once more for an annual commemoration.
The leaders of the alliance will gather on 6:10 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at City Hall, 515 Kansas Ave. A procession will then travel from there to Campbell Chapel AME Church, 715 Atchison St. for a 6:30 p.m. religious service led by The Rev. Vernon Winfrey of Campbell Chapel AME and The Rev. Michael Strickland of First Baptist Church.
King, born in 1929, is likely to be remembered for all coming time as perhaps the greatest ever American orator and the transformational martyr of the Civil Rights Movement, for his leadership from 1955 until his assassination on April 4, 1968. He led the campaign that succeeded in bringing down most formal institutions of U.S. racial segregation and inspired leaders for decades to come in the ongoing struggle for social justice and peace among nations.
King has been posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. By tradition, each award constitutes the most prestigious decoration any U.S. or foreign civilian can hope to attain, and the presentation of both is the rarest of honors.
Though today is his birthday, for the sake of ensuring that his commemoration will always produce a three-day public celebration with many businesses and institutions closed for business, Congress set the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday to always occur on the third Monday in January.
Then-President Ronald Reagan signed legislation authorizing the federal holiday in 1986, completing a trend that saw states and localities authorize holidays in King’s honor starting in 1971; significant debate had taken place as to whether or not King deserved a federal holiday in his honor. Reagan, until that time reluctant to support the celebration, nonetheless said the nation should rejoice in King’s honor.
“Dr. King’s was truly a prophetic voice that reached out over the chasms of hostility, prejudice, ignorance, and fear to touch the conscience of America,” Reagan said. “He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”
While all states uphold this federal law today, some jurisdictions, mainly in the South and Southwest, continue to honor Confederate Civil War-era leaders, chiefly Robert E. Lee. Only in the last decade have Arkansas and Virginia, for example, moved or cancelled Confederate celebrations so that King is honored alone on the third Monday in January.