MLK observance day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a national holiday since 1986, yet this is the first year that Washington and Lee undergraduate classes were cancelled to observe it. In Nov. 2014, the undergraduate faculty voted to cancel classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2016.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed legislation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday. The first MLK day was celebrated in 1986, and is observed on the third Monday of January each year. It remains the most recently designated national holiday.

Across the country, Americans continue to honor King’s legacy on this day. Many employers offer paid vacation days and many schools cancel classes. The Washington and Lee School of Law began observing the holiday in 2013.

The change to Washington and Lee’s schedule comes partly in response to complaints from a group of Washington and Lee law students. This group of law students wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees requesting that the board cancel undergraduate classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, remove confederate flags from Lee Chapel, and not allow Confederate reenactors on campus on Lee-Jackson day.

In past years when W&L has not cancelled classes, the university still planned MLK-related events. This year, the university hosted these events in addition to offering a holiday.

Some of the most noteworthy events included a student-led discussion of King’s importance titled “In His Own Words: Lessons From Dr. King For Today,”a traditional Children’s Birthday Party, and author Michael Eric Dyson as the MLK keynote speaker.

W&L is behind the times by officially cancelling classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the first time this year, more than thirty years after it was designated a national holiday.

Although the schedule changes that accompanied the calendar change leave room for improvement, cancelling classes to celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is important. By having the day off from classes, students find it easier to participate in the MLK day events offered without putting their work on hold.