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Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

This message was created by the Social Justice Collaborative.

This weekend, Emerson celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream of social justice. The third Monday of every January marks the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday in the U.S. It is intended to honor the life and legacy of this leader, whose activism paved the way for desegregation, the Equal Housing Bill, and the Voting Rights Act.

Many know the broad history of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and his involvement in the campaigns for civil rights throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His leadership as a prolific writer and spokesperson, and his efforts to make societal change through nonviolence, galvanized peaceful protests and marches, in spite of relentless persecution, discrimination, and attacks.

The civil rights movement, led and orchestrated primarily by African Americans, also created a bedrock of legal framing that has benefited people across the country who have and continue to experience injustice.

MLK was part of a constellation of many activists and organizers throughout this time in history. Below we amplify a few lesser-known, but tremendously impactful, individuals that contributed to this enduring legacy. It was, after all, a movement that changed the course of history

We hope these examples encourage you to consider what skills, time, and passion you can bring to bear in the ongoing work for equality and justice in our Emerson community, and beyond.

Ella Baker (1903-1986)

A civil rights organizer in New York City and the U.S. South, Ella Baker promoted grassroots activism and recognition of the labor of women within the civil rights movement, holding several positions with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), including President of its New York branch. She often resisted the expectations of her fellow organizers and encouraged youth to organize on their own, leading to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 

Sylvia Mendez (1936)

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez, the 8-year-old daughter of Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants, attempted to enroll at a public school for white children in Westminster, California. The school’s refusal, and her parents’ subsequent activism, led to the 1947 rule desegregating California public schools, seven years before Brown vs. Board of Education, which banned segregation nationally. 

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Orchestrator of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin’s name should be held in close proximity to Martin Luther King Jr’s, yet his open sexuality and intersectional identity as a gay Black man was often used to weaponize fear. Rustin was a driving force behind the civil rights movement, introducing MLK to the practices of nonviolence and peaceful civil disobedience that would be the hallmark of his legacy. 

Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014)

As an American-born daughter of Japanese immigrants, Yuri Kochiyama experienced first-hand the impact of fear-based oppression on cultures and communities when she and her family were moved to an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This experience, and her continued patriotism, catalyzed Yuri’s determination to fight for equality in the United States, joining the civil rights movement in the 1960s in New York, meeting with Malcom X and the Freedom Riders, among others. Her lifelong pursuit of human dignity and equality contributed to The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted $20,000 in reparations to surviving Japanese Americans who had been interned by the U.S. government during World War II.

This message was created by the Social Justice Collaborative.

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