Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed each year on the 3rd Monday of January. Close to his January 15 birthday, the holiday honors America’s champion of racial equality and justice. This Baptist minister was a leader in the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968 at age 39. And though he preached nonviolent activism, King was arrested and put in jail 29 times. Enduring beatings and a home bombing, he became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35. Yet no regular-issue or commemorative U.S. coin has ever honored him.
“I have a dream”
The signature speech in King’s pursuit of racial equality was delivered on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Hailed as a public speaking masterpiece, his “I have a dream” speech was delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
In the address, Dr. King called upon the country to fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. “I have a dream,” King stated, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” His hope was further defined by these words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
John F. Kennedy received 68% of the African American vote in his slim victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. And Martin Luther King Jr. put pressure on the Kennedy Administration to support civil rights legislation. Though JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963, the Civil Rights Act that Kennedy had proposed was soon passed by Congress and signed into law on July 2, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.
MLK Day expands to celebrate worldwide racial and ethnic unity
The federal holiday bearing King’s name honored his quest for racial equality in America. But he inspired nonviolent liberation movements around the world. And Martin Luther King Jr. Day evolved into a worldwide movement for racial, ethnic and cultural tolerance. Efforts to bring people of all races and ethnic backgrounds together are now observed in more than 100 countries on MLK Day.
Will a coin ever honor MLK?
Several proposals for coins honoring Martin Luther King Jr. have been made. But to date none have become law. However, other history-making African Americans have been featured on U.S. commemoratives:
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for racial justice in America. Yet a commemorative coin honoring him will probably have to wait until the centennial of his birth in 2029. Until then, his fearless efforts are remembered with his legendary “I have a dream” speech and the federal holiday that bears his name.