Many area residents ignore Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A national holiday commemorating the birth of America's most prominent civil rights activist will largely go unnoticed in Craig today.

For many businesses, including the county courthouse, it will be business as usual on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

From the seventh grade to high school, Moffat County public school students have the day off today, but not because it's a holiday, said Superintendent Pete Bergmann, of the Moffat County School District.

Today is a workday for educators who teach the higher grades. All district students and staff will have off Presidents Day, Feb. 16, which is more convenient to school schedules, Bergmann said.

The district also closes for Labor Day and Memorial Day.

"Because of our demographics (MLK day) is not a cultural holiday for rural Colorado," he said. "It's a culture-based decision whether we take the day off or not."

According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau there were 11 blacks reported living in Moffat County.

Though the civil rights movement is taught at Moffat County Schools, Craig Middle School history teacher Bryce Eardley questions whether students are fully aware of the inequities suffered by blacks in American history.

"To be honest, I don't know if students have a clear grasp of discrimination against African-Americans," he said in an e-mail. "Instead they see it as much more prevalent in regards to our Hispanic population. So I try to focus on not only how it affects the black population of this country, but how MLK also helped other minority groups."

Eardley believes that few students are conscious of historical discrimination against American blacks, partly because few blacks live in Northwest Colorado.

"I don't think our community thinks it's a bad holiday, I just don't think most people feel a need to celebrate it," he said. "Perhaps we just don't see the relevance."

Jolene Walls, an employee at Peabody Western Coal Company's Seneca Mine, won't get the day off today.

She thought the holiday was recognized enough locally.

"I suppose they should do more, but as far as I'm concerned it's celebrated enough," Walls said. "There are a lot of holidays that we should do more for and we don't. There are some holidays that we do too much for and we should probably do less."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is credited with mobilizing the civil rights movement in 1955 in the Deep South after protesting the arrest of Rosa Parks who was "charged" with not giving up her seat on a city bus to white person. He helped blacks band together to boycott riding buses, which ended 381 days later in a Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation on Alabama buses illegal.

In the following 13 years Dr. King worked to secure voting rights, desegregate schools, deliver speeches and form protests to fight racial injustice. He was assassinated April 4, 1968 while leaving his hotel room after delivering a speech the previous day to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King is most well known for his famous, "I have a dream," speech, delivered in 1963 to a crowd of 200,000 who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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