Longtime Southern Nevada civil rights activist Ida Gaines heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Las Vegas in 1964. She was moved then, and today, nearly 55 years later, remains moved by his words and his work.
“I remember seeing this dynamic, committed person advocating for equality for all during those days back in the ’60s when we, as African-Americans, were struggling here in this state to (promote) removal of segregation and to be treated as equal,” Gaines says.
King was killed by an assassin’s bullet four years later, but his memory and his legacy are celebrated every year on the third Monday of January through the national holiday that bears his name.
Americans may celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with everything from parades to community service projects. It’s also a time for remembrance, service and personal reflection.
Gaines recalls that, when the bill establishing the national holiday was signed into law in 1983, “what it meant to me was the sacrifices that were made to make this day possible. He gave his life. That’s what we should remember on that day, the commitment and the sacrifices and what we should still be aspiring for.”
Honoring King may be a more vivid exercise for those alive during his time. For others, newspaper and TV reports can offer a way to reacquaint themselves with his work and legacy.
“In past years, what I’ve done is go on YouTube and pull up his old speeches,” says Vogue Robinson, Clark County poet laureate.
“People typically listen to his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” she says, but “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and King’s other pieces also offer a way to recall King and his work.
Robinson says King’s words remain relevant.
Southern Nevada documentary filmmaker Stan Armstrong says that during Black History Month (February), “I try to look at as many documentaries as I can,” as well as news reports about King. He adds that it could be a way for parents to educate children about King and his legacy.
“I think parents should take time and explain to their kids … about this man and the sacrifices that he made for us,” he says, and for “not only black people, but all creeds and nationalities.”
King was “a humble servant,” says Las Vegas Councilman Cedric Crear, and spending the day in service to others would be an appropriate way to honor his memory. It could be something as simple as volunteering with a local civic organization.
Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries, says many service groups nationwide take on projects in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Individuals can take the same tack, she says, with activities that don’t have to be complicated. “You can do small, great things.”
Gaines agrees. “We should make it a day of service and helping the lives of each other in some way. There are many things you can do that day, (such as) just reading to children,” she says.
“I think that’s an important thing, just doing something that has value and meaning.”
Crear says Southern Nevadans also might devote time this weekend to reflecting on King.
Volunteering “is great,” he says, “but I think that, also, people have to find a way within themselves to reflect upon (King) and what he’s done.”
He suggests “taking a minute to reflect, because we’re always better when we’re able to understand our past.”
White notes that parades and other community activities are ways to observe the holiday and honor King.
In Las Vegas, the 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade is set to begin at 10 a.m. Monday. This year’s theme is “Living the Dream — One People, One Nation, One Dream,” and the downtown route extends along Fourth Street from Gass to Ogden avenues (kingweeklasvegas.com).
Is it possible that, 36 years after it was signed into law, Martin Luther King Jr. Day may be losing its resonance and becoming just the final day of another three-day weekend?
“I’m sure that maybe some communities take it for granted,” White says, but “I think it’s still very powerful in a lot of communities.”
“We all have the opportunity not to allow it to become that.”