The Start of the Martin Luther King, Junior/Idaho Human Rights Day Celebration at Boise State

The Annual Martin Luther King Jr./Human Rights March, Rally and Day of Greatness takes place on Monday, January 19 in the Jordan Ballroom of the Student Union.

Though Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is now recognized as a state holiday and it's a given that events will take place to honor this day, that has not always been the case. Early attempts to have a celebration of events on campus go back to January 16, 1989. Eric Love, Black Student Union president and strong supporter of a celebration for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, organized a rally to protest the university not recognizing the day as a holiday. According to the January 23, 1989 issue of the Arbiter, the article "Protesters Share King's Dream," states that at least 200 students and faculty gathered outside the Business Building on that day. President John Keiser was a speaker during the protest and stated that if the day was a holiday and there were no classes, students would likely be skiing rather than recognizing the importance of the day.

Despite these remarks, Eric Love was among a group of people who continued to work with the administration to recognize King's birthday. The following year saw a series of events over three days honoring MLK Day. It included the march of over 700 Boise State students from the Student Union to the Statehouse. The rally demonstrated to state legislators the need to recognize King's birthday as an official holiday. At that time Idaho was only one of four states in the country that had not declared the day a holiday. During the celebration at the statehouse, Governor Cecil Andrus was among those members of the Boise community asking legislators to make the day an official holiday in the state. The keynote speaker of the 1990 celebration of events, Martin Luther King III, spoke before an audience of over 800 in the Student Union Ballroom. King's call to action for students was to "repay the past" and "create opportunities for those behind us." He also told students that they "have the power to break the chain of bigotry."

The Statehouse rally aided in the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day in 1990 by the Idaho Legislature. The state holiday was created to give people the chance to participate in honoring Dr. King on the third Monday of January. This new state holiday was officially celebrated on January 21, 1991. That year's MLK celebration expanded into five days of events that included well-known teacher Jaime Escalante as the finale speaker who spoke to a nearly full house. The five days of celebration saw thousands from the campus and Boise community attend and participate in the events.

Since these early Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations on campus, students, faculty, and staff have organized an outstanding array of activities to celebrate the life and principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather than just having one event, students provide diverse events throughout the week. Events include racism-today workshops, expressions of cultural diversity in Idaho, co-sponsored events with the Idaho Human Rights Commission and other campus and community organizations, and a keynote address by an individual that has made a contribution to the human rights movement. Previous speakers have included Manning Marable, Cornel West, and Yolanda King.

When Eric Love actively worked to make the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a reality on campus, he envisioned that it would not be a one-time event but an annual celebration of events. Thanks to his tireless work, this annual celebration is going strong and honors the work of Dr. King.

Julia Stringfellow Archivist/Librarian, Special Collections and Archives

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