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Martin Luther King Jr. died 53 years ago, on a warm April day in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. At the time, the civil rights legend was thinking of radically broadening his movement into one that would embrace all poor people, irrespective of color. 

That biracial dream, along with others associated with the Baptist preacher, died with the gunshots aimed at the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. You can still debate whether this country in the half century since has made progress against racial inequity, or stalled in the struggle.

President Ronald Reagan signed the law making King's birthday, Jan. 15, a national holiday in 1983, after years of effort by civil-rights leaders -- including a big assist from Stevie Wonder, whose 1981 song "Happy Birthday" was dedicated to the slain leader. 

"You know it doesn't make much sense," Wonder wrote, "There ought to be a law against / Anyone who takes offense / At a day in your celebration."

It would take 17 years for all 50 states to adopt the holiday. Arizona and South Carolina both resisted, with the latter coming in last, finally approving the holiday in 2000. It succeeded only because the legislature also approved a Confederate Memorial Day in May. 

Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- generally celebrated on the third Monday in January, this year Jan. 20 -- reminds Americans to honor King's ideals of social activism, public service and community engagement, with tens of thousands of events across the country.

In the Detroit area, King will be memorialized with a mass at Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a community breakfast at Redford Township's Triumph Church, and free admission to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, among many other activities.

MLK Day Events

SATURDAY

NANBPWC of Ann Arbor Club 36th Annual MLK Ball: The theme will be “Removing the Mask of Inequality: Moving Toward New Heights.” This event is being hosted by the Ann Arbor Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. (NANBPWC) as its signature fundraising activity to provide scholarships to youth in Washtenaw County community. Detroit Pistons’ announcer, John “Mason” Mason, will be the keynote speaker. 7-10 p.m. $65 per person. Doubletree by Hilton, 3600 Plymouth, Ann Arbor. (734) 769-9800.

MONDAY

Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the DIA: Families of all ages are invited to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. with family programs, including gallery adventures, games and a special drop-in art-making workshop. 11 a.m. Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward, Midtown Detroit. (313) 833-7900 or dia.org.

Keynote Memorial Lecture: The University of Michigan Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium welcomes Angela Davis, American political activist, academic and author. Professor Davis’ teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University, Mills College and UC Berkeley. She also has taught at UCLA, Vassar, the Claremont Colleges, and Stanford University. Her concerns are with the general tendency to direct more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. 10-11:30 a.m. Free. No tickets needed. Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University, Ann Arbor. (734) 936-1055.

Martin Luther King Jr. Children and Youth Program: Presented by the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Students in grades K-12 will learn about the legacy and ideals of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with an emphasis on aiding young people to act on the ideals today. Throughout the day, there will be a mixture of entertainment and learning experiences presented with a variety of cultural and educational activities. 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Modern Language Building (auditorium), 812 East Washington, Ann Arbor. (734) 323-4237.

Minorities and Philosophy MLK Day Lecture: Race, Class, and Solidarity: Featuring Tommie Shelby (Harvard University). This talk deals with challenges to contemporary black political solidarity here in the United States: class differences among blacks. 1-3 p.m. 3222 Angell Hall, 435 S. State, Ann Arbor. (734) 647-9596.

What They Did Not Want Martin Talking About: Featuring Martin Luther King’s thoughts and Teachings on the Dangers of War and Militarism. This event will be presented by Veterans for Peach/UM Veterans Affairs Office. The event centers around King’s speeches relating to war and militarism, showing them as relevant today as they were nearly 50 years ago. 2-4 p.m. Michigan League (Wolverine Room), 911 N. University, Ann Arbor. (734) 662-0818.

MLK Day at the UMDC: A day of activities celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a focus on recent events surrounding the US immigration policy. 10 -11:30 a.m.: keynote lecture streamed from campus; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: luncheon, and 12:30-2 p.m.: panel discussion: “Whose Huddled Masses?”, Whose Huddled Masses? Orchestra Place (Ann Arbor room), 3663 Woodward, Suite 150, Detroit. (313) 593-0927.

Annual MLK Mass: Prayer and a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for justice and peace. 10 a.m.-noon. Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward, Detroit. (313) 865-6300.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast: A family event that brings together citizens and leaders from across the state to celebrate the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 9-11 a.m.Triumph Church - DWO Campus, 23800 W. Chicago, Redford Township. triumphch.org.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast: This annual event commemorates the life and times of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 8-10 a.m. (Doors open at 7 a.m.) Earl Lewis, Ph.D., president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2013-18), will be the keynote speaker. Also, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., enjoy free museum-wide family activities, including face painting, a live artist, moderated youth discussions, educational films and more. $35. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 East Warren, Midtown Detroit. (313) 494-5800.

Free Admission -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: See a 30-minute show at the Henry Ford Museum, “Minds on Freedom,” which showcases the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hamer, Gloria Rackley and the Freedom Riders. Join others as they sing, carry protest signs, and more. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Free parking. Henry Ford Museum, 20900 Oakwood, Dearborn. (313) 982-6001.

Love in Action: Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The featured speaker will be Chris Lambert, founder and CEO of Life Remodeled. There will be a tribute to Dr. Roberta Wright. Childcare will be available for children younger than seven. (Required registration for childcare is available at kwilson@brightmoorcc.org.) 9 a.m.-noon. $10. Proceeds will be donated to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Brightmoor Christian Church, 40800 West 13 Mile, Novi. (248) 668-7000.

Kids N’ Crafts: Martin Luther King Day: This new kids’ event in honor of Martin Luther King Day will feature a group story and craft making session. Noon-1:30 p.m. $2. Dearborn Historical Museum, McFadden-Ross House, 915 South Brady, Dearborn. (313) 565-3000.

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: the Flint Institute of Arts, in partnership with the Flint Public Library, presents a celebratory program of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with family-friendly activities. Program begins at 2 p.m. when Emcee Glenn Wilson, president and CEO of Communities First, Inc., introduces City of Flint Clerk Inez Brown, whose keynote speech will explore the civil rights legacy of Flint. Family activities will be from 3-5 p.m. Admission will be free to all visitors on Jan. 20. Flint Institute of Arts, 1120 East Kearsley, Flint Cultural Center. (810) 232-7111, (810) 234-1695 or flintarts.org.

Canton Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Featuring Shaun Boothe: The Unauthorized Biography Series. Boothe is an award-winning hip-hop recording artist, TEDx speaker. This annual event is presented by the Canton Commission for Culture, Arts and Heritage, members of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sub-Committee, and Canton Township. 7 p.m. $15. Village Theater at Cherry Hill, 50400 Cherryhill, Canton. (734) 394-5300 or cantonvillagetheater.org.

JANUARY 25

Second Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Empowerment Breakfast: This event is geared toward empowering young people. Free. 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 2625 Moak, Port Huron.

Compiled by Jocelynn Brown

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