Despite its widespread celebration today, MLK Day was once a holiday steeped in controversy. For more than 15 years after his assassination, lawmakers refused to sign off on the holiday honoring the life and legacy of civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., due King’s radical stances on racial justice and equality. After massive petitions, public demonstrations, and hours of filibustering, MLK Day was finally passed into law in 1986, and became the first national holiday to honor both an African American citizen and someone who had never held government office before. Despite its long path to acknowledgment, the celebration of MLK Day continues to face resistance, coinciding with celebrations of confederate general Robert E. Lee in several states.

This week, ongoing racial justice movements, a national pandemic, and an attack on the U.S. Capitol brought new meaning to the 35th celebration of MLK Day, as the country continues to grapple with upholding the values of racial justice and equality that lay at the forefront of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision. In today’s blog post, we take a look back at the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and what it means for us in 2021 even as the first Black vice president is sworn into office and the fight for racial justice is pushed yet one step further.



“‘It changed me’: A year of protest and loss renews meaning of MLK Day” by Ximena Conde, WHYY
For many who lost loved ones to the ongoing pandemic and racial violence in America, MLK Day provided a unique moment of hope and reflection in 2021.


“This M.L.K Day, America Has a Long Road Ahead” by Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times
With an attack on the U.S. Capital just days before MLK Day, it is clear that the country still has a long way to go in embodying the values of justice and equality that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for.

“‘I believe in us’ - On MLK Day, NBA players reflect on social justice and what comes next” by Eric Woodward, ESPN
NBA players reflect on the ways that the past year’s social justice movements have affected them and what they hope that the NBA, which has been at the center of conversations on racial justice, can achieve in the coming year. 

“‘It isn’t the same’: Cities host muted MLK Day celebrations after year of loss for many Black Americans” by Marc Ramirez, USA Today
With the ongoing pandemic, many cities moved large MLK Day celebrations online, trying to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the best of their ability as they reconciled with the traumas of the past year.



MLK/FBI, directed by Sam Pollard, IFC Films (2020)
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a celebrated figure today, his actions were steeped with controversy in the 1950’s and 60’s, decades in which the FBI took every effort to discredit him, from bugging phones to surveilling hotels and sending threatening letters.

"The Open Mind | The New Negro", PBS (1957)
A live television interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 helped viewers gain a closer look at the values and ideas that guided him and his work.