Alexandria History

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorations – An Alexandria Legacy

Participants at the ceremony in City Council Chambers. (Photos: OHA)

Alexandria, VA – On January 15, the City of Alexandria held its 50th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program. Hosted by the City’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Planning Committee, the program honored the life and legacy of Dr. King. It was also a memorial to the dedication and service of the Alexandria residents who have made this program their legacy.

In 1973, a full decade before a national holiday honoring Dr. King was declared, Alexandria civic leader and activist Alice P. Morgan started Alexandria’s first memorial program. Five years after Dr. King’s assassination, Alexandria celebrated his life in that first ceremony. Morgan and other citizens approached then-Mayor Charles Beatley, who endorsed the program. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Planning Committee has always sought to host a city-wide memorial on Dr. King’s birthday, January 15.

Rather than being led by city officials, the program committee prides itself on being run by volunteer residents and emphasizes an interfaith, intergenerational, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic program that reflects the values of diversity and inclusivity championed by Dr. King. In 1986, then-Mayor James P. Moran proclaimed January 20 as Martin Luther King Day in the City.

Today, the Committee cooperates with the City’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs to plan the event and seeks opportunities to expand its work beyond the January 15 program. The Committee’s current mission is to connect residents of different generations, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses to encourage progress toward justice and equality for all. What started as a mission to commemorate the words and ideas of Dr. King for one day a year has evolved into a year-round endeavor.

In keeping with the intergenerational emphasis of Dr. King’s vision, the Alexandria Black History Museum and the Office of Historic Alexandria sponsor an annual Student Poster Exhibition. Participation is open to Alexandria City Public School students, grades 2-5. This year’s theme is “It Starts With Me! Creating Martin Luther King, Jr’s Beloved Community.” The Student Poster Exhibition debuted on January 16, MLK Day, with a ceremony in City Council Chambers. Ceremony speakers included Mayor Justin Wilson and the Vice Chair of the ACPS School Board Jacinta Greene. While the ceremony concluded on January 16, readers can view the student posters in the Vola Lawson Lobby at City Hall through February.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Poster Exhibition started as a contest in 1990. The Alexandria Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage, Inc. (ASPBH), the Friends’ group for the Alexandria Black History Museum (formerly known as the Alexandria Black History Resource Center), created the contest. Under the leadership of two memorable society presidents, Harry Burke and Carlton A. Funn Sr., the contest grew from a small exhibit and program held at the Alexandria Black History Museum to the more extensive show held in the Vola Lawson Lobby of City Hall in January and February of each year. Not only does the MLK Poster Exhibition honor Dr. King, but ACPS students also have the opportunity to have their artwork displayed in City Hall for all of Black History Month. In 2013, the ASPBH renamed the contest to honor the late ASPBH President Carlton A. Funn Sr.

Entries in the Student Poster Exhibition.

The poster exhibition’s annual theme always draws from the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). This organization, founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, seeks “to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.”

The Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program and the Martin Luther King Jr. Poster Exhibition display not only the legacy of Dr. King but the decades of work by community organizations in our City. They encourage the values of service and equality that resonate with residents born many years after Dr. King’s assassination and have created a tradition of their own.

ICYMI: Learn About Black History in Alexandria This February, Immersive Events Planned

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