Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed across the nation on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, Jan. 15.
While in past years, the college remained open and celebrated the national holiday with on-campus ceremonies, in 2008, it was decided closing the college would be more appropriate, said OCCC President Paul Sechrist.
“As an educational institution, the recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity to acknowledge our history, to learn about our history, and to move forward with an understanding of our history,” he said. “If it were just another day of classes and work I am not sure it would have the same impact.”
The holiday, which was signed into law as a Federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, is important for a number of reasons, said Ray McCullar, history professor.
“It reminds us that African-Americans didn’t always have civil rights,” McCullar said.
“It celebrates the successes and ongoing work of the civil rights movement. For a lot of young people today, these events can seem like ancient history. It’s good to look back and see how far we’ve come.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves both as a memorial to a great man who died too young and as a day to remember his work, said Ryan Campbell, pre-engineering major.
“Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds me that because of Dr. King’s work we are in a new era in terms of racial understanding,” Campbell said.
“This is not the world Dr. King grew up in,” he said,
“Now, the general consensus among most people, no matter what race, is that we should all get along. And I think that’s his legacy.”
Reminders such as these are ever more important in light of ongoing efforts to make history politically correct, McCullar said. “People try to sanitize it, to make it less offensive,” he said.
“Many Oklahoma history books don’t mention, or touch only briefly on, the Tulsa Race Riots. And I read an article that said they were going to remove the n-word from the next edition of Huckleberry Finn.
“I understand why reading that would be offensive, but if we continue to try and clean up our history, we’ll lose sight of how great the civil rights movement really was.
“We’ll forget how great a man Dr. King was, and the strength it took to do the work he did.”