WASHINGTON DC —
The third Monday in January is a federal holiday in the United States, marking the birthday of renowned civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. This year, the holiday has special meaning for many, after the events of recent months in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
If King were alive today, they wonder, what would he say about the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and of Eric Garner in New York City — both unarmed and killed in confrontations with police — and about the anger and demonstrations that have followed?
King’s famous "I have a dream" speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington, was an iconic event in the struggle to end racial segregation and establish equal rights for all citizens of the United States.
Last month there was another "March on Washington." Tens of Thousands of demonstrators in the nation’s capital called for justice in the deaths of Brown and Garner.
This demonstration was peaceful. And King's niece Alveda King — whose father, A.D. King, was also a civil rights activist — suggested the violent protests that occurred in Ferguson after a grand jury did not indict the police officer involved in Brown’s death were not the right approach.
She called the Ferguson protest slogan — "No justice, no peace" — aggressive and said that only peaceful protest can lead to any positive results
Alveda King recalled the day in 1963 that her own home was bombed.
“People wanted to do just what they did in Ferguson," she said. "They were trying to turn over police cars, throw stones. They were trying to be very violent. And I remember Daddy was standing on the car with a megaphone, and he was saying: 'Don’t riot! Don’t be violent! My family and I are OK. Please, go home and pray.' "
Some critics of the protests suggest the demonstrations have created animosity towards police, and that they may have led to the killing of two New York City police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. But one of the positive things to emerge is a peaceful discussion about racial discrimination that’s taking place in social media.
"When I see #BlackLivesMatter, I believe that black lives — from conception and to the moment of natural death, the sick, the elderly, the young, the old, the educated, those who need things in communities — all black lives and all human lives matter," she said.
In honor of the holiday, parades are organized in many cities, and hymns are sung in churches across the country. Americans, including President Barack Obama and his family, take part in community projects aimed at bringing Americans together.
Alveda King said that this was her uncle's dream: to see this nation peaceful and united.