On the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

March 11, 2009

I’m engaged in a little mini-skirmish in another venue with organizers and fans of the ScienceOnline conference thingy, which they apparently prefer to hold on the Fri-Sat prior to the US National holiday in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now, you may not have noticed but ScienceBlogs (and let us face it, the science blogosphere generally) is kinda light on people from the groups which are most fond of this holiday. African-Americans, of course, but also the union/organized labor folks, organized farm workers and Latino-Americans. Even the dirty-hippie peacenik contingent is a bit light around these parts (although we do have this guy). So enthusiasm and respect for MLK Jr. Day may not be what it could be. This has ever been the case.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

For those of you who may not be steeped in USAian traditions, let me just note that calls to create a holiday for some Civil War era traitor to the USA or other continue to this day- with the explicit rationale that “they have their holiday”.


“they have their holiday”, what about ours?
Of course, the “resistance” to this holiday also continues in a more substantive manner via the refusal of private companies (read: employers) to celebrate. Which means that local community groups that wish to have full participation and involvement in celebrating the holiday often schedule their events on the Saturday or Sunday before the official third-Monday-in-January date.
This brings me to you, DearReader. Does your place of employment give the day off? When does your local community schedule the major events, parades, etc? Do they fail to recognize it altogether? How important is this holiday to you? If you are a boss do you quietly give your underlings the day off anyway if your company does not do so? Do you report in sick to attend a parade? Would you be loathe to travel for any professional obligations if it meant missing your local celebrations?
or is the fact that MLK Jr. Day is a US National holiday news to you?

No Responses Yet to “On the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday”

  1. becca Says:

    One culture shock (of many) in traveling from Chicago to central PA: No MLK day. It’s like it doesn’t exist out here. I don’t know if it’s the lack of minorities, or the lack of influence of any “dirty-hippie peacenik contingent”.
    (filed under ‘they paved paradise’)


  2. My campus observes the holiday. (No classes; occasionally day-of-service type activities, although I seem to recall that we have another designated day-of-service that falls on a different date.)
    And the big MLK Day celebration in the region (in San Francisco) generally falls on MLK Day itself (Monday).
    Of course, I’m in a hotbed of West Coast liberalism (and a member of a labor union to boot), so I’m expecting to be something of an outlier here.


  3. Stephanie Z Says:

    Between the local university, two county seats, a state capital and a solid hippy dippy tradition, the Twin Cities tend to schedule their events on the day of. It isn’t a work holiday for me, but my company schedules a long event over lunch in celebration, which is available for videocast in satellite offices, and time for attendance is paid.


  4. My institution (which is wishy-washy from year to year on many national public holidays) does consistently give the day off on MLK day.
    We seem to get President’s Day about every other year.


  5. Joe Shelby Says:

    As I wrote on the day in a number of places, I have yet to ever get MLKjr day off. Ever. Presidents Day has only been a day off in one of my 3 main companies since leaving college (and never a holiday in school).


  6. Cashmoney Says:

    My nonprofit, NIH-supported private research outfit does not celebrate- I give my peeps the day off anyway. And out city parade is on the Sat prior.(no, amazingly I don’t live in the South)


  7. Kim Says:

    My institution doesn’t give us MLK day off, but we don’t get any Monday holidays off. There are related campus activities (talks, rallies, movies) for several days surrounding the actual holiday, though.


  8. Barn Owl Says:

    MLK Day is always a holiday for all students, faculty, and staff at my university. There’s a city march (one of the largest such in the US), and a number of well-advertised community events (public lectures, films, park and garden clean-ups, youth summits) on the weekend prior to MLK Day itself. By no stretch of the imagination do I live in a hotbed of liberalism; the city in which I live is predominantly Hispanic, and there are also strong African-American communities associated with the military (Air Force and Army medical in particular).
    I grew up in Houston, and there we also celebrated Juneteenth, which originated in Galveston, and commemorates Emancipation Day.


  9. Dave Says:

    MLK is observed where I am (large state research university with large medical school in a traditionally blue state). No classes, no work-related events, nothing (hospital and other essential staff are different, of course). It’s a genuine holiday, though inconsistently observed among individuals. The only other holidays observed by my university are: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. We are supposed to make a ‘reasonable effort’ to give students leeway for ‘religious holidays’ — but only if they request it in advance within the first week of the semester. So, by that measure, MLK day is more important than Christmas.


  10. Drug raises a very good point I have to admit to not thinking of before; I feel terribly embarrassed because I work at historically-Black college, closed on the Dr. MLK, Jr. holiday, of course, and have lived for eight years in a town that is comprised of 44% self-identified African American citizens. Across town, Duke is open on that Monday but has a host of activities.
    Perhaps part of my ignorance is that the vast majority of Dr. MLK, Jr. events in the area where ScienceOnline’09 was held are usually on Monday and during the week that follows:
    Our parades have always been on the Monday but the big one was moved this year to Jan 31 because so many people from the area went up to the inauguration.
    However, I don’t believe we had more than two people of color (self-identified) attend last year and perhaps seven this year, only because Miss Stacy Baker brought a few African American high school students and the gender and race session was split out to one on each.
    So, thinking out loud, does having the conference on MLK, Jr. weekend account for our lack of participation by underrepresented groups or is the science blogosphere just painfully white, non-Hispanic?
    Thanks, Brother Drug, for raising the question. I pretty much feel like an idiot for not considering this point, especially because I have many reasons for knowing better.


  11. leigh Says:

    hmm, technically faculty and staff get a day off for MLK jr day where i am (large southern university). however, the university remains open and generally we grad students work as if no celebration was going on. my lesser-known state college in the greater midwest acknowledged the day, but no big deal was made of it.


  12. george.w Says:

    I am very happy that my university gives observes MLK day, both by taking that day off and with events leading up to it. It saddens me to think that anyone refers to it as “their” holiday; how to imagine a more essentially American day than one devoted to equality and justice?
    Those things are not often enough the reality, but they should always be our destination.


  13. Hope Says:

    I work for a uni in the Northeast; we always get MLK off. There are a number of events surrounding it to mark the occasion. Most employers in these parts give people the day off, too.
    Can’t help thinking that if I had a blog, my picture would easily be amongst those of your “white” bloggers. Which is just fine because I am white. But that doesn’t make me any less Latina.
    The latter is probably why I always get a special invitation to the MLK festivities (which are open to all) from the uni’s Diversity office, but the former is probably the reason that I’m not in their brochures.


  14. DrugMonkey Says:

    I do hope you clicked the picture Hope so you’d realize it isn’t quite “my” picture, there’s a story behind it. and a funny one because whoever set up that original site titled it “Aryan bloggers” or some such. I don’t think people who are concerned with Aryan-ness think a lot of those people qualify…


  15. Dave Says:

    Success for this holiday will really be when MLK day is amalgamated into something called ‘Civil Rights Day’ and we have to explain the history and controversy of it the same way we have to explain the little known histories of President’s day and Labor Day (and even the political propaganda event we call Thanksgiving Day).
    I can imagine, for example, that some future version of snopes.com will have to explain that Martin Luther King was NOT actually a turn-of-the-(twentieth)century muslim terrorist, because the idea that blacks were once treated as less than human simply because of their race will seem absurd.


  16. Anonymous Says:

    That’s an interesting link you posted to Jefferson Davis’ birthday. Is it legit? It’s news to me that it is a state holiday in Florida. In Miami, our public schools don’t recognize it – and our public schools rarely let a holiday go by without cancelling class. We rarely have more than two five day weeks a month.
    MLK day, on the other hand, is a big deal all over Miami.


  17. Chris P Says:

    My biotechnology company started giving it off just in 2008. The Utah Legislature finally made it a holiday for them just this year–it had been the first starting day of the legislative session per the state constitution.
    Isn’t Cesar Chavez day a state holiday in California? I seem to remember the holiday when I was at Cal.


  18. human Says:

    MLK Day is a holiday for everyone (students, faculty, staff) at my university. I’ve never heard of local celebrations or anything, though it’s possible they exist.
    A few years ago, someone got the bright idea to get rid of MLK Day AND Labor Day in order to add a longer fall break. They solicited comments and I wrote in explaining very politely why that was an incredibly stupid proposal. It died a quiet death, thank goodness.


  19. DuWayne Says:

    I tend to get irritable at the idea of taking a lot of various holidays off. I am all for recognizing the historical significance of many of the people and/or events that are commemorated by various holidays, but also tend to be very reticent about taking those days of recognition off the job. Part of this may just be a lifetime of working for just enough and not getting paid for holidays, but even now I find myself chafing at the notion that I should take time from the work I’m doing, for an entire day, just so I can celebrate various historical events and figures.
    In large part, I just think it’s important to celebrate these people and events on a daily basis, through our actions. I absolutely despise, for example, valentines day. When I am in a relationship, I celebrate that relationship, that women I love, every fucking day. I bring home flowers, because I happened to be passing a stand and saw something I knew she would love. I wander over to her at random and tell her just how much I love her, not because it’s the day I’m supposed to, but because I was just thinking about her and how much I appreciate her. Valentines day just implies that we don’t need to do that every day.
    Growing up where when and how I did, there was this underlying racism that ran pervasively under the surface of alleged diversity. I was in my early twenties before I really became aware of my own underlying racism. Given the social conditioning that went into making me who I was and am, it still rears it’s head once in a while. I am very keen on keeping this kind of bullshit in check – it doesn’t matter that I am perfectly capable of keeping my expression in check. What’s in my head is no less real for never being expressed outside of it. It’s important for me to celebrate diversity and equality every day, lest I allow myself to fall into familiar patterns that are loaded with fucking bullshit.


  20. neurowoman Says:

    Well, our institution for sure has MLK day as a holiday. But my observance generally consists of enjoying the various radio programs while I’m working. Then again, there are very few holidays I don’t work, institutionally recognized or not. Presidents day, Memorial Day, Labor Day. I drew little fireworks in my lab notebook on July 4th,yippee. Not a big fan of parades anyway.


  21. lost academic Says:

    I have a client, I shit you not, that because they are giving Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off to the (unionized) hourly employees, also have to give Confederate Memorial Day too. I thought it was a joke…


  22. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve never had MLKJr day off, not when I was in college or grad school or postdoc, and not since I’ve joined the working world.


  23. Nat Says:

    Well, the daycare center is closed, so it’s a holiday for us. In the past I’ve never taken the day off for it, but if left to my own devices I’d probably work on the big holidays as well.
    Still, MLKJr is definitely in my personal pantheon of American heroes.


  24. My current MRU grants the day off, but my previous MRU did not. Regardless, the Isises have always observed the holiday and are thankful for the pioneers who stood up to discrimination. Whether we ever reach equality (and I pray that we do), it is important to remember the people who sttod up to the firehoses, were arrested for sitting at the lunch counter, and ultimately the man who gave his life for what he believed. I hope that we never stop teaching our young people about the specific sacrifices made that have shaped the future for so many.
    I find it offensive that people think of it as just another day off, or that it will someday lose its meaning, and I appreciated President Obama’s call to service. I hope the people you are skirmishing with see the importance of this holiday, Brother Drug. The Isises will continue to observe it. ¡Dios bendice al Dr. King!


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