Out and About

Martin Luther King Jr. festivities are must-sees this weekend

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 11, 2017
Courtesy of: collectspace.com The newsroom will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday by taking a few hours off of work to see the film 'Hidden Figures.'

Official holidays in the U.S. are part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, 1971, — legislation that moved the dates for several holidays in the nation to a Monday.

Memorial Day, George Washington’s birthday, Columbus Day and even Veterans Day were all moved to Mondays to create a three-day holiday for many.

(There must have been a backlash in moving Veterans Day from Nov. 11, a date originally selected because World War I formally ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Three years later, the original holiday date was restored.)

In any event, legislation honoring civil rights leader and pastor Martin Luther King, Jr., was passed in 1983, and the first official MLK holiday was celebrated in 1986.  The holiday was a controversial one, as evidenced by the fact that it wasn’t officially observed in all 50 states until nearly 25 years later.

Whether the tardiness was due to business interests that didn’t want to provide yet-one-more day of holiday pay for employees or unresolved racial tensions, it is hard to say. Labor unions pressed for the holiday legislation and again in contract negotiations.

Both of North Carolina’s senators at the time, Sen. Jesse Helms and lesser-known Sen. John Porter East, led the opposition to the holiday, questioning whether King was an important enough figure to deserve the honor. In his filibuster opposition, Helms questioned King’s patriotism, citing his opposition to the Vietnam War and raising concerns about ties to Marxism, remarks one of his colleagues called “a packet of filth.”

As with every civil rights expansion in past 100 years, the holiday was plagued with naysayers, and to this day, it is relegated to one of the holidays that isn’t universally observed they way that Independence Day, Christmas or Thanksgiving, are, for instance.

Because of the nature of newspapers, there are many days that others are celebrating when we in the newsroom are on the job. That’s why readers always have photos of July 4 activities, the somber ceremonies celebrating our veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day or Labor Day functions.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is another one of those days we are on the job, but we have started a tradition to pay tribute to the trail-blazing civil rights leader in our own special way.

In addition to covering all the traditional festivities marking the occasion, we slip away for a few hours on the afternoon of the holiday to collectively watch a movie that provides an insight into black history in some way. This year’s movie will be “Hidden Figures,” the story of three African-American women who were the brains behind the nation’s race to the moon.

There are plenty of activities in the region marking this holiday, and each and every event we cover has offered new insights that we regularly share with readers. But why not get a first-hand glimpse this year if you haven’t ventured out to one of the events before?

A full schedule of activities honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is available in this week’s issue of The Guide. See page 5 for Haywood County activities, or check out the calendar of events on pages 22-23 to see what is happening in Asheville.