PSU Black Studies professor reflects on MLK’s legacy

BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
FACULTY GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

This marks the 20th year that all U.S. states recognized the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday. 

The idea of the MLK or King holiday, as it is referred to be many, started with Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow. After her husband’s assassination in April 1968, Coretta wanted to find a way to honor his memory and the work he was doing. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta was the result. 

Coretta continued to work diligently to have King’s birthday recognized as a holiday.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that recognized King’s birthday as a national holiday. Some states began celebrating King’s birthday in the mid-1980s, a few southern states celebrated it along with the birthday of Civil War Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, but it took until 1990 for all states to observe the King holiday.

King’s birthday gives us the opportunity to remember the things that he did in his lifetime and spurs us to continue this work. 

His legacy includes the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the many speeches and marches he gave, and his writings such as his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which was a response to white religious leaders who warned him against embarking upon his nonviolent activities. 

In this letter, King vocalized the importance of his actions, writing, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” King’s statement makes clear that while things look as though they will not change, with time, they will — and not because we are loud or quiet, riotous or righteous, but because we are sound and right. The key is understanding that there are different ways of going about it and some may be quick, and some may be slower than others.  

“Make it a day on, instead of a day off,”
by engaging in service activities. Let us remember why we celebrate this day.

Following the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill in 1965, King moved to other issues such as employment, housing, and opposition to the Vietnam War. 

His assassination at the age of 39 did not end the work he set out to do. 

As we celebrate his birthday, many opt to “Make it a day on, instead of a day off,” by engaging in service activities in their communities. Let us remember why we celebrate this day. 

Happy Birthday Dr. King!

Shirley A. Jackson, Portland State University Professor,
PSU Black Studies Department

Living the Dream

By: Sharon Nellist

10258891_10101685513754293_6293913161816303566_oOne of my favorite things about Portland State University is how we are incredibly diverse. I have had the opportunity to meet so many new people from all sorts of backgrounds. I have been exposed to various cultures by those interactions right in my PSU backyard.

January 18 was no different than my past experience with diversity, except in one major way. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), Oregon Campus Compact, hosted over 400 students from PSU and six other local colleges and universities to come together in unity and love. Our goal was to serve and prove that we are not just dreamers, but if we believe then the DREAM will become a reality.

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Coffee’d up and ready to serve!

We served 14 community sites throughout East Portland and Gresham, logged 1,428 hours of service, and made an economic impact of $32,944.

I was privileged to lead a small group of students and AmeriCorps volunteers to serve the Dharma Rain Zen Center on their 14-acre former landfill site in Northeast Portland. In those four short hours it did not matter what school we came from, or what homework we needed to do when we returned; we put ourselves aside and focused on them. We were weeding around bare fruit trees, towing wheelbarrows of mulch downhill, and trying to avoid being poked by blackberry bushes while removing them. And even though we may not see a huge impact from our service at that moment, like the bare trees, we know that the fruits of our labor will be noticed with time and more love.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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At the Dharma Rain Zen Center