In what seems like ages ago now we celebrated the coming in of the New Year—2021, with a holiday meant for remembering the past and for looking forward with hope for brighter and more peaceful days ahead. This coming Monday, January 18, our office will be closed in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Since 1986 the third Monday in January has been observed as a national holiday in honor of this great citizen.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, and during his life he was instrumental in advancing the African-American Civil Rights Movement using nonviolent methods of civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. Dr. King was active in the peace movement, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He stood up for equal treatment and opportunity for all citizens and in the process he called out the need to stamp out poverty. He was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old.
It is hard to think of this young man dying by such violent means when his life’s mission was dedicated to peace. While Dr. King’s work helped advance the cause of equality in his time, we can only imagine what he would be thinking of the United States today.
A global coronavirus pandemic has upended life in the United States and around the world, changing how people work, go to school, attend religious services and socialize with family and friends. This caused a hard hit to the economy with unemployment rates rising to levels not seen since the 2008 recession. The effects of both the disease and the battered economy have fallen disproportionately hard on minority communities.
According to the Pew Research Center “More than half of Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. In a reflection of the mounting toll the virus has taken, 54% of U.S. adults said in November that they know someone who has been hospitalized or died, up from 39% in August and 15% in April. Around seven-in-ten Black Americans (71%) know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19, compared with 61% of those who are Hispanic, 49% of those who are White and 48% of those who are Asian.”
Last year the videotaped killing of a Black man by police officers in Minneapolis sparked demonstrations and an international outcry that focused new attention on the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities. The Black Lives Matter movement drew widespread public support and online engagement following the death of George Floyd in May. In a Pew survey in early June, two-thirds of Americans – including majorities across all major racial and ethnic groups – expressed support for the movement (though support slipped to 55% by September).
In November, the election itself underscored high voter engagement in 2020: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received more than 81 million votes while Donald Trump and Mike Pence got more than 74 million – the highest and second-highest totals in American history. Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first African American to reach this pinnacle.
Voter engagement remained high for the runoff election in January when Reverend Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Dr. King was co-pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968) was elected to become the first African-American Senator from Georgia.
Certainly times have changed since Dr. King was alive and fighting the good fight. While he might lament the suffering of the past year, certainly he would look with happiness on the advances. Happy Birthday, Dr. King!