2014 Northwestern University Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
January 20-27, 2014


Northwestern University celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King was born in 1929 in an America where, because of the color of their skin, nearly 1 in 10 people lived lives that were separate and unequal. In Montgomery, Alabama a rule required all blacks to sit in the rear of public buses. In 1955, when Rosa Parks was told to move to the back of the bus, she said, "No." Martin Luther King, at that time, a young minister in a local Baptist church, then organized a boycott of the bus company—a boycott that stunned the country. Within 6 months the courts had ruled the segregation of public transportation unconstitutional. Dr. King had awakened a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."

During his all too short lifetime (1929-1968), Dr. King was a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. He was an advocate of non-violent protest and became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (signed into law on November 2, 1983 and first officially observed on the third Monday of January 1986) is an American holiday marking the birthday of Dr. King. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15.

The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. President Bill Clinton signed the federal legislation into law on August 23, 1994.

In 1980, only 12 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., before a national holiday had been enacted, and before the MLK monument was conceived, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Mu chapter at Northwestern University initiated the commemoration of this fallen leader and their fraternity brother.  What was at first the only University event and what is now known as the Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil included collaboration with the Department of African-American Student Affairs and the University Chaplain’s office.  The event was a success from the beginning and became a Northwestern staple in 1983 with the appearance of Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington as keynote speaker.  Then-Congressman Washington spoke to an enthusiastic capacity crowd in McCormick Auditorium in the Norris Center.  A month later he was elected mayor of Chicago.

The Northwestern University community has celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. King since 1987 with an expanded special commemoration, including stage events, discussions, lectures, films, music, theater and service projects throughout the week to inspire reflection on Dr. King’s life and legacy, including the continuation of the Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil. In January 2013, Northwestern designated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official University-recognized annual holiday for students, faculty and staff.