Why are King Day celebrations held on work days, not the holiday?
As time passes, has the importance of the King Holiday struggle in Monroe diminished?
This week, the City of Monroe hosted its annual Martin Luther King observance on January 10th, eleven days BEFORE the holiday and five days BEFORE Dr. King’s actual birth.
Most city schools, which are predominately Black, but do not host any programs honoring Dr. King or the ideals of the dream.
On the holiday itself, Monroe only hosts two programs, one sponsored by the Martin Luther King Foundation (which often includes a parade) and another sponsored by local teenagers, called “Teens for the Dream.” That’s it!
Twenty years ago this month the Ouachita Parish School Board finally recognized the King Holiday and closed schools on the holiday. It resisted calls to recognize the holiday for nearly a decade as local residents marched and protested.
The City School Board did not recognize the King Holiday either, but it found a way to close on the holiday by scheduling teacher in-services on the King Holiday as a way to partially recognize the day without officially recognizing the day.
The City of Monroe hosted a general citywide observance of Dr. King’s birth that was started by the late Nashell Harris and others who began meeting around the flag pole at noon on the holiday until the city embraced the group.
The group planned the program and involved community groups, pastors and civic leaders and was well attended. Mayor Abe Pierce, III plugged the city into local activities and helped promote the group’s effort in 1996 and opened the civic center for the observances as a city-wide function.
He also helped promote the teen program, “Teens for the Dream”, that involved over 2,000 students who packed the civic center conference hall, and theater. It was coordinated through various churches and the volunteer city school bus drivers who ran routes on the King Holiday. School food services provided 2000 sack meals for the students and the celebration expanded.
All of these activities were held on the King Holiday.
In 2002, Mayor Jamie Mayo was mayor and things began to gradually change. The city continued recognizing King Day, but Mayo pushed out the local committee and instead of a community salute to Dr. King, it became the City of Monroe’s salute. The city no longer coordinated with community groups but staged its own program and invited others to observe.
Reverend John Russell and the original planners formed the Martin Luther King Foundation and began hosting the annual King program on the night of the holiday at a local church.
The city also withdrew its support of the “Teens for the Dream” programs that attracted thousands of youth on the holiday. The teen program continued, but without city support as in the past.
Mayo appointed his employees to plan the program and gradually changed the emphasis from a focus on Dr. King to a city awards program. Each year, the presentation of plaques and awards consumes much of the program held during working hours on a work day.
In the meantime, the city’s awards program moves further from the actual holiday and has lost much of its historical appeal to African-Americans.
Last year, the program was held five days before the King Holiday.
This year its eleven days before the holiday.
It’s almost like observing Christmas or Easter eleven days before the actual date.
The major opposition of the Ouachita Parish School Board and indirectly the City School Board had to the King Holiday is that children would learn more about Dr. King in school than out. They said it would be just a day off with no observances. They said people would use the holiday for everything other than recognizing Dr. King.
Twenty years later, neither parish or city schools have dedicated King programs and very few black groups participate in King Day programs and activities. If they are held at all, they are observed early.
On the King Holiday schools are closed, banks are closed, federal offices are closed, the mail doesn’t run, the nation stops, to remember Dr. King at the same time.
However, in Monroe, most of the observances are held early so that everybody can kick back enjoy a dream free, three-day weekend.