Lena Mitchell


The national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has been celebrated the third Monday of January since it was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.

The holiday became law 15 years after a bill was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, in the weeks immediately after King’s assassination in 1968.

But today, Jan. 15, is King’s actual birth date.

With the passing in October, 2019 of Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and the recently-announced critical illness of civil rights stalwart Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the current status of the fight for civil rights for racial and other minorities.

The class of Democrats elected to congress in November, 2019 shows a broader base of representation for people across the spectrum of those who suffer discrimination – racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, women, people with disabilities and others.

At Cummings’ age 68 when he died, and Lewis approaching 80 next month, both were molded by the King strategy of nonviolent direct action.

As recently as June, 2016, Lewis led at a sit-in of 170 congressmen to protest Congress’ refusal to act on gun control legislation. A June 12, 2016 massacre in an Orlando, Florida night club killed 49 people, and was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have pushed legislators to try to pass new gun control laws.

At age 56, North Carolina’s Rev. William Barber, former chairman of that state’s NAACP, has been using similar strategies for several years.

In April, 2013, Barber instigated “Moral Mondays,” a grassroots movement of people to engage in civil disobedience at the North Carolina state capitol to protest unjust voting rights laws, cuts to social programs, repeal of the Racial Justice Act and more.

Barber left his post to re-launch King’s Poor People’s Campaign and organize a 22-state tour this year that he has labeled “A National Call for Moral Revival.”

Titled the “We Must Do M.O.R.E.” Tour, the event will arrive for a stop in the Mississippi Delta/Memphis, Tennessee area on May 15 - May 18.

At the end of the tour will be a “Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington” on June 20.

Barber may be the latest nationally-recognized civil rights leader, but last fall’s national election results showed that people concerned about civil rights are returning to the strategy of using the voting booth to balance the scales.

Just as Republican control of Congress has weakened civil rights legislation for more than a decade, Democrats are seeking to reverse that tide by reclaiming the House of Representatives and looking for possible ways to regain control of the Senate.

Republican-controlled state legislatures have implemented contrived voting restrictions – closing polling places and reducing voting days and hours, among others – to limit voting, some of which have been struck down by the courts.

As we celebrate what would have been King’s 81st birthday today, we can be sure that the fight for equal rights for all remains strong and its future bright.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Readers can contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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