Martin Luther King Jr Day


It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  It seems wrong to wish someone a “happy” MLK day, so I seek a greeting that encourages you to perform one act today (or one more than usual) that promotes peace and justice.  Maybe something like I wish you an “active” MLK Day.

One thing I will do is to try to create peace. I have learned this can only come from inner peace.  As my spirtual teacher Robert Thompson says, “if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.” So work on that inner peace today, create peace in your family through patience, do something kind.

But what does this have to do with legal studies?

I’m glad you asked.

It is easy (especially now with the rise of certain scientistic approaches to the empirical study of law) to think of “law and social science” as removed from concerns of substantive justice.   Martin Luther King Jr. day should remind us of many things — of the possibility of a world without racism, of the power of non-violence, and of the power of a charismatic leader for an entire movement (I often wonder how come Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, and others don’t have their day too).   Perhaps most important to remember, however, is that law can be a weapon for the weak against unjust power.

Yes, law often works to reinscribe power relationships.  Yes, law often was part of creating the conditions of inequality that we are working against.  But law embodies transformative possibility.  While there may be little career advancement for spending a day working on an amicus brief (pdf) about employment discrimination instead of a paper for a journal, we should do it anyway.  Or whatever it is in your area of scholarship that can promote justice.

That’s it — kinda corny, you can rib me about it, but it is why I got into this gig and why I think a lot of you did too.


6 Responses to Martin Luther King Jr Day

  1. eszter says:

    I agree that wishing someone “Happy MLK Day” doesn’t quite sound right. I thought about how to end my email to my class yesterday as I did want to say something about MLK Day so I said: “I hope you participate in some activities tomorrow in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!”. Part of the point here was to note that the reason they’re getting time off from class is precisely to get involved actively in some way to commemorate the occasion. (Just a few years ago, NU only cancelled classes in the morning, but recently it’s gone to all day so there’s more chance for people to take part in activities.)

  2. laurabethnielsen says:

    Bob (N) won’t challenge me in public, but he hates my use of “scientistic” in this entry and demanded examples. Bob — make your point.

  3. lankdangle says:

    What I think on this day is how incredibly rare people like MLK are. We have lot’s of peace lovers but very few actual peace makers.

  4. davidspates says:

    I made a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day video that I think EVERYONE will enjoy. It’s really short, and should put a smile on your face.

    Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day everybody

    David Spates

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    OK so the above comment is borderline spam, but the video made me chuckle. I do study employment law, you know.

  6. lbsmom says:

    Since I’m writing this on the day we commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, here’s how I felt once also trapped in a time & place where it was difficult to imagine alternatives but knew things were NOT right. I apologize for not posting this sooner—needed lb’s ok.

    As a child in the 50’s & 60’s in Texas, I experienced segregation personally. Whites’ & blacks’ separate drinking fountains, blacks had to enter & leave the local movie theatre through a different door from us & sit in the balcony only. Once I went to the back of the city bus in Houston & sat with the “coloreds,” & my mother stomped back to get me, grabbed by arm, said “march,” & pointed toward the front. Happily, I can tell you I marched kicking & screaming—made quite a scene! I asked too many questions like, why can’t I eat at the table with our beloved maid (whose name was Lovey), use the same toilet as her, etc. My mom never told me–just said something like young ladies don’t act like that or say those things. But Lovey told me secretly that’s just the way it was between coloreds & whites as she was cooking my food, tucking me in bed, kneeling beside my bed with me to say prayers, taking me to her home to visit her wonderful family. They only lived a mile or two away, but it felt like another world. I cannot tell you what their area was called, but you’ll get it with this hint: N—– Town, yes, the infamous N-word. Just a few days before Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, my father uttered this as he watched the tv news, “Somebody ought to shoot that N-word.” And, when somebody did, I remember furiously telling him it was a good thing he had an alibi. I’d like to think most of us do the best we can whenever & wherever we can. Meanwhile, injustice continues to roll like a river, & I’m standing on the shore watching………..

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