Today is the day set aside to commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), one of the first and foremost proponents of Gandhi-style non-violent protest in the West, and one of the most inspirational and influential civil-rights, labor-rights and anti-war advocates in American history.
Unknown photographer. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Born January 15, 1929, died April 4, 1968.” From the Rosa Parks Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2015651821/. Used here under Free Use provisions of U.S copyright law.
Among many honors, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has a good biography here and additional information including a series of school lessons with lesson plans, videos, photos and other materials here. These are excellent resources for all of us. While Dr. King is—justly—remembered for his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and his 1963 “I have a dream” speech, it’s important that we remember the full depth and breadth of his life and work, and not just a few often-repeated quotes and sound bites.
MLK in Wisconsin
Dr. King visited Wisconsin at least six times in the 1950s and ’60s. And in 1967 he telegraphed his support to Milwaukee alderperson Vel Phillips and Father James Groppi as they led a series of marches to try and bring an end to the laws that officially segregated that city’s housing. Two hundred days of non-violent marching proved fruitless.The marchers faced intense, sometimes violent, resistance from white communities, and the Milwaukee Common Council would not repeal the segregated-housing laws. Only after Dr. King’s assassination—and the subsequent passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1968—did the City of Milwaukee repeal its segregated housing laws.
Black History in Wisconsin
Black history in Wisconsin—and the nation—does not begin and end with Dr. King.
African Americans have been living and working in Wisconsin since the 18th century. The state’s black population continued to grow slowly throughout the 19th century. Job opportunities in the 20th century led to significant African American settlement in Wisconsin, primarily in the southeastern part of the state, especially after World War II.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has a good introductory overview of “Black History in Wisconsin” here. It includes sections—with links to more detailed information—about:
There is a lot of history at these links, and I recommend taking time to read them. They open doors into many interesting, perhaps less-familiar, aspects of our state and its people that all of us should understand.
The History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Issues of race and equal justice have divided Americans since colonial days, and it’s not surprising that Martin Luther King Jr. Day has a contentious history. This article has a good summary of the establishment of—and resistance to—the holiday, and some of the still-unresolved issues surrounding it. (Personal reminiscence: I was living in Virginia when that state was deciding whether or not to make King Day a state holiday. Let’s just say that Virginia’s compromise solution of adding the MLK commemoration to a pre-existing state holiday to make Lee-Jackson-King Day was a jaw-dropper for me, a son of the Land of Lincoln.)
Since 1984, King Day has also been celebrated as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. This blog post is my contribution to the “day ON, not a day off” principle of the MLK Day of Service. If you’d like to participate, click this link for more info with suggestions and links to service projects and ideas all around the nation.