Efforts to establish a federal holiday commemorative to Martin Luther King was initiated by the first black person to adorn the chair of House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, soon after the 1968 assassination of King. However, it took a decade and a half more to realize this dream of all African-Americans, when in 1983, President Ronald Reagan finally succumbed and passed the law, declaring the 3rd Monday of every January as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The third Monday of January was chosen because it is usually around 15th January, Dr. King's birthday.
The first Martin Luther King Day (MLK Day) was fêted on 20th January, 1986. Today all 50 states of the United States of America observe this day in unison, in honor of all the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr., organizing special events, such as a parade, service, and other activities. Following are the special activities and customs that people of America have adopted over the years for the man who questioned racial disparity and defined justice for many.
It had taken the signatures of 6 million people to get the government to dedicate a day for King. Today it is one of the four public holidays recognized by the US Government, which are consecrated to an individual. Parades are organized in numerous cities around the US. In Los Angeles, the Kingdom Day Parade starts from the Martin Luther King Boulevard and goes on to Leimert Park at about 10.30 am. The entire event is telecast and includes spectacular float shows, marches, drill presentations, and special appearances and performances by celebrities. The parade generally is followed by special gospel services, in the memory of King, who was a Reverend and an immensely religious man. His famous quotes and speeches hold witness to his deep belief in the power of God to uplift the plight of the socially downtrodden. This service also sees a discussion of his famous "I have a dream" speech, along with live music. Food stalls are set up by local vendors around the service area.
The themed annual MLK Day Parade in Baltimore commencing from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard at Eutaw Street, Manhattan's Fifth Avenue grand parade traveling from the 61st to the 86th street in New York City, the Annual MLK Jr. Parade in Savannah, Georgia, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade in Washington DC beginning from Ballou High School on Fourth Street moving along Martin Luther King Avenue, are all magniloquent shows held in the memory of the great man. The duration of these parades vary from city to city. It can be anything from two and a half hour parades to five-hour long extravaganzas as in the case of New York. A lot of activities are included in the celebrations along with the parades.
Parades are most often conjoined with activities such as health fairs, blood donation campaigns (as arranged by the Savannah Observance Day Association, Inc.), community services such as alms collection as well as distribution of homemade food and other amenities in hospitals and slum areas, as organized by the Jewish Community Center in New York.
Human interest documentaries, which deal with the suffering and survival of races strewn all over the globe, are screened in many places, along with schools organizing special visits to museums, orphanages, homes for the disabled, and old age homes on this day. Services in Atlanta involve volunteers spending the day with underprivileged kids, tending to their physical and mental needs, and also renovating their schools and surroundings. Many people also gather at churches and libraries, with their children, for sermons and elaborate discussions on the principles of Martin Luther King as demonstrated by him during his lifetime. Excerpts from his books are also read out in some places with analytical speeches delivered by scholars and followers of King's ideals.
Nowadays, various communities club activities and services and schedule it in and around the actual Martin Luther King Day, wherein events take place throughout preceding week and the weekend, now addressed as the Martin Luther King week.
MLK Day has certainly come a long way. It is a very special day for Americans, evident from the magnitude of the events arranged. No more restricted to only the black community, all citizens of America today join hands to seek courage and wisdom from the man who envisioned a unified world, a world sans the shackles of racism and narrow-mindedness. In fact, it is this very message of King's, regarding one world, which enables anybody, no matter a citizen of which country to adopt Martin Luther King Day and celebrate the victory of humanity.