To many, Martin Luther King Day is a chance to sleep in and extend the weekend while still recovering from Christmas break. For others, it is a chance to acknowledge the best known civil rights activist of his generation, Martin Luther King. In Anchorage and the Valley, one has to wonder why we have the day off when the places that seem like they would be venues for acknowledging and celebrating Martin Luther King’s life and peaceful efforts in pushing for civil rights, such as the Anchorage Museum, both UAA and APU campuses, schools and city libraries. You can hop on the People Mover bus, but there are not a lot of places to go. In a beautiful gesture by the Alaska Bar Association, they will be offering free talks (with limited time for each person to be seen) in family law, landlord-tenant and public-benefit topics will be available from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Mountain View Community Center, 315 Price St. In downtown Anchorage at the Alaska Center for the Perfoming Arts, there will be a free Martin Luther King Day Holiday Celebration with musicians and singers in a multi-cultural group setting with Senator Mark Begich, former Anchorage mayor, as the key speaker.
What many Alaskans don’t know is that prior to Martin Luther King’s efforts in the Lower 48, Alaska had its own awakening. Before Martin Luther King, Alaskans of color (anyone who wasn’t White or who didn’t speak like established Americans) faced a myriad of discrimination issues. It was typical in Alaska, a land long inhabited by Alaskan Natives, to see signs outside of shops and restaurants signs that declared that no Natives were allowed. The leader of this was Alaska’s original beauty and brains female political leader, Tlingit activist, Elizabeth Peratrovich. A story on her is coming up in a couple of weeks.
Until then, wherever you go on Martin Luther King Day, look around and listen. You are in the biggest state in the United States of America. Fifty years ago, it wasn’t common to see people of different skin tones mixing in the same stores and neighborhoods, or people with different accents laughing and talking to each other. Even if you just go to Carrs to grab some groceries or to get your nails done, you are taking for granted what activists like King and Peratrovich wanted for you to take for granted. Take a moment and appreciate it: toast them with a late, your bottled water or a soda. Tell your kids how lucky they are to be living now.
For a list of closures on Martin Luther King Day, please go to this Anchroage Daily News link.