Despite initial strong resistance from many Republicans, including President Ronald Reagan himself, the day is now firmly set in the American calendar as a mark of respect and time of reflection.
Thirty-five years on, Martin Luther King Day seems more important than ever. With the storming of Congress by thousands of Trump supporters ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration and against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, the United States appears more divided than ever and the cause for racial equality – which ultimately cost King his life – appears far away.
HOPE not hate Charitable Trust is marking Martin Luther King Day by producing the Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, a commemoration and celebration of all those who took part in the Civil Rights Movement, to the great sacrifice of many.
However, Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement goes well beyond just remembering those who were involved in the classic 1954-68 years of the Civil Rights period. To give context to the Civil Rights era, we explore slavery and the racist system that was created after it was formally abolished. We also examine the right-wing and racist backlash to the gains made during the Civil Rights era – gains that propelled Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and eventually Donald J. Trump into the White House.
As is clear from the events of the past year, the fight for racial justice and equality in the United States is far from over. Indeed, many of the gains made in the mid-1960s have been clawed back and the criminalisation of America’s Black community from the 1970s onwards has had profound political, economic and cultural consequences. The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests clearly illustrated the anger and frustration of America’s Black communities, just as the right-wing backlash illuminated the resistance to change of many.
African Americans today still face a great deal of structural racism, poorer employment opportunities, poorer health outcomes and a tribalised political system which too often does not serve them well.
The Heroes series is our way to remember and recognise those who campaigned and fought for equality and against extremism across the world. It is also designed to inspire us in the future.
Last May, to mark the end of the Second World War in Europe and the defeat of Nazism, we published Heroes of the Resistance. We will shortly be embarking on our next two Heroes projects – anti-fascism in football and the anti-racist movement in the UK.
We hope you enjoy this publication as much as we enjoyed writing it.
As I mentioned in the Heroes of the Resistance: “We remember their bravery in order to honour them. While we mourn humanity at its worst, we also celebrate humanity at its very best.” This is as true about the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. as it was for those fighting fascism in World War Two.
We salute all those who took a stand against the horrors of slavery and racism and promise to continue the fight for HOPE over hate.