Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

remembering the Civil Rights leader in 2022

On the third Monday in January we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to mark the date of his birth, January 15, 1929. The movement to make it a federal holiday (confirmed 1986) was a long and difficult process. This day has been a state holiday in Pennsylvania since 1978. An important factor in advancing the legislation was the public support and outcry of African-American politicians and celebrities. Today, many participate in the observance as a day of service to honor King’s legacy of non-violence and interfaith activism to celebrate how he has changed the course of American history- “because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”.

An activist, advocate, minister, theologian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner– so many descriptors could be chosen to describe King’s life– but few words or phrases can truly capture the magnanimity of what he accomplished and how he inspired others. When reflecting upon what to write about the history of the holiday, the trajectory of Civil Rights movement, and King’s life, the sentiment that stuck in my mind was the words of another- specifically Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Albertin, Walter, photographer. Martin Luther King, Jr., three-quarter-length portrait, standing, facing front, at a press conference / World Telegram & Sun photo by Walter Albertin. June 8. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/99404325/>.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

Martin Luther King was not only an inspirational person whose life was tragically cut short upon his assassination in 1968– but an icon, a movement, and a theology. Therefore MLK Day is many things to many people, the memorial of someone lost to history and a community, a celebration of changing the world for the better, and a promise to continue his work.

So many of my formative experiences as an African-American I put into the perspective of “is this what Dr. King was about?” But his legacy isn’t about always needing the perfect, historically accurate answer to that question so much as it is the imperative to ask.

As a library assistant, I could fill this blog with facts, figures, and any assortment of research material relevant to Martin Luther King Jr’s accomplishments. But instead, I’m choosing a fun anecdote. Many sources claim that his favorite gospel song was Mahalia Jackson’s version of Precious Lord, Take My Hand. So I will share in this post Aretha Franklin’s version, as it is my personal favorite.

It’s not exactly a light, happy tune- but the stylings are soothing to a tired person in need of solace. Franklin’s version starts with her voice alone and an affirmatively sympathetic organ. Mentors, friends, family, and fellow activists must have been valuable sources of the advice that a person would seek out. The song builds with the encouragement of the interjections of the choir as they join with the band to become a robust exclamation. It makes me wonder how the civil rights leader reflected on the trajectory of his life and organization of the coordinated civil disobedience that would change this nation forever. Essential to King’s legacy was his experience as the minister of an African-American Baptist church- possibly sometimes wondering if his leadership was responsive to his congregation while alone in the pulpit, knowing the personal and political enemies that one must inevitably make. As other singers and instruments join in, the song brings to mind the necessary encouragement of others who share a vision of a social gospel. The swelling second repetition of the chorus echoes images of King leading marches across the South, linked arm in arm in the quest to further the beloved community.

Looking for Digital Library Resources?


  • Día De Martin Luther King Jr. by R. J. Bailey
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Theology of Resistance by Rufus Burrow, Jr
  • Martin Luther King Jr., Heroism, and African American Literature by Trudier Harris
  • How to Analyze the Works of Martin Luther King Jr. by Rosa Boshier
  • Martin Luther King Jr. And the Morality of Legal Practice : Lessons in Love and Justice by Robert K Vischer


  • Journal of American History
  • Journal of Black Studies
  • The Christian Century
  • Theology Today
  • Journal of Southern History


  • Gale in Context: Biography and Gale In Context: U.S. History
  • Religion and the Law and Civil Rights and Social Justice from HeinOnline
  • Open Access Digital Theological Library (OADTL)
  • Criminal Justice and LegalTrac from GALE OneFile

Selections from the Stacks

From the Children’s Section

  • I Have A Dream by Martin Luther King
  • Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley
  • Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop : The Sanitation Strike Of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan
  • March by John Lewis
  • I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Grace Norwich

From the Social Justice Collection

  • The Trumpet of Conscience by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. by Michael Eric Dyson
  • To The Promised Land: Martin Luther King And The Fight For Economic Justice by Michael K. Honey
  • There Is A Balm In Gilead: The Cultural Roots Of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Lewis V. Baldwin
  • Never To Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life Of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Lewis V. Baldwin

In Need of Some Primary Sources?

Wolfson, Stanley, photographer. Marchers carrying banner lead way as 15,000 parade in Harlem / World Telegram & Sun photo by Stanley Wolfson. March. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2005677031/>.

Available through Eastern

  • The March on Washington, 1963 and Black Empowerment Collection from ATLA Digital Library
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. channel from Alexander Street Press

On the web

Current Resources

At Eastern

In Philadelphia

Locally and Virtually

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