Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will forever be synonymous with his groundbreaking civil rights work and the third week of January honors this man and his legacy, a day that local officials agree is one of the most important of the year.
"I do agree with that," said Burlington Town Administrator Robert Mercier. "Dr. King was one of the giants in the civil rights movement and a great leader and a change agent. He was an inspiration and his message meant so much for this country. He helped transform our society to be more tolerant."
"I'll never forget the quote: 'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.' That resonates with me," Mercier added.
Born in 1929, King grew up drawing inspiration from nonviolent activists like Mahatma Gandhi. Opposing the Jim Crow laws and other segregation acts, King became involved in a plethora of civil rights movements during the 1950s, including the famous Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.
During the following decade, King organized some of the largest civil rights events in history, including the March on Washington in 1963 in which King offered his “I Have a Dream” speech, arguing for equality among all people.
Through all of his campaigns, King was met with both acceptance and resistance, the latter of which culminated with his assassination in 1968.
To commemorate the work of Dr. King, supporters moved to declare Jan. 15 (King’s birthday) a federal holiday, beginning with Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Infoplease reports. President Ronald Regan eventually signed the King Holiday Bill in 1983, declaring a holiday on the third Monday of January. The day did not instantly become a holiday in all states, but Massachusetts was among the first in the nation to pass its own bill, enacting a holiday in the 1970s, according to Time Magazine.
"Dr. King clearly impacted all of us and resonated with people up here," Mercier said. "The abolitionist movement started up here. Dr. King's message may have been more specific to the south, but we all know that racism was everywhere and I think his words simply resonated across the country as the right thing to do. That message was a change agent for our country. If you look at our country today, with opportunities for all, it would not be the same without him."
Mercier said King was also admirable for how he approached leadership.
"It was a quiet leadership, unlike many leaders today," he said. "He wasn't bombastic, he had a calming way of influencing people without being bombastic or threatening. I've always considered him one of the greatest leaders our country has produced."
King’s message of peace is so far-reaching, in fact, that officials in Memphis, Tennessee, the city in which he was killed, want to name a street after him to forever commemorate his positive work, reports The Associated Press.
ANOTHER LOCAL QUOTE, IF YOU HAVE ONE TO USE
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we ask you to share you own stories of standing behind your beliefs and championing equality. Tell us your thoughts on the holiday and the legacy behind it in the comment section below.