Begin now to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

We have passed Halloween. Some people say “thank God,” and others wish it would last all year. And we approach the holiday season quickly. The stores are already filled with Christmas ornaments and trees arrive soon. And people were thinking about their Thanksgiving feast preparations, and family, of course.

If you live here in Hawaii, you may be aware of makahiki. As I understand it, when the star cluster we call the Pleiades appears on the horizon near dawn, that marks the beginning of the season. This is usually in November, near our American Thanksgiving.

It lasts all the way through to February or March in our Roman calendar, until the Pleiades is on the horizon as the sun goes down. The Hawaiian customs were to cease wars, pay taxes and play games during this period.

I love the idea of a cease fire. There is the famous story about the enemy soldiers in the trenches of World War I stopping killing each other and sharing a Christmas Eve with singing and humanity. Of course, I have to wonder why we can cease for a night or three months and not just cease.

If you go to the deeper meaning of Dec. 25, we are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, a teacher of love and of turning the other cheek. If you look at the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving, it is obviously celebrating gratitude for survival in harsh times, with the help of the indigenous people.

Many people have heard of Kwanzaa, but I know few who actually celebrate it. It is a modern, created African American holiday which goes from Dec. 26 to New Year’s Day.

Each day corresponds to a principle. They have beautiful Swahili names and more extensive explanations, but the order in simple English equivalents are: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

So we make it through December to a New Year and bang! Third Monday of January, closest to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Jan. 15 birthday in 1929 is another holiday. Soon after King was shot down and died on April 4, 1968, there was a movement to create a special commemorative day for a man who had lived and died leading us toward a dream of a non-violent, tolerant, sustainable and healthier world.

He was a Baptist preacher, son of a Baptist preacher. He was not only highly educated but dove deeply into understanding the world he saw. His doctorate work revolved around widely different views of how God is perceived. He grew up experiencing the inequality and injustices based solely on the color of his skin and his origins. And he dedicated himself to changing things by following the lineage of Jesus, Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi.

The effort to create a Martin Luther King Holiday was challenging, to say the least.

John Conyers introduced the bill, and it was not only rejected on the basis of cost to the federal government but vehemently opposed by men like Jesse Helms and others, who blamed King for disrupting their way of life, which was segregation.

With support of many, especially Coretta King, his widow, Stevie Wonder, and marches on Washington, the bill was signed in 1983 and the day was celebrated in 1986, some 18 years after his assassination.

So where are we at in 2019? This summer was the 400-year remembrance of the first black African slaves being sold in Virginia colony in trade for tobacco. Some historians now see that event as the true start of the U.S. economy as we now know it.

From 1619 the wealth of the future nation was based on unpaid labor and severe oppression of human beings forcefully removed from their homes, lives and families, while expanding territory through genocide of the indigenous peoples.

After thinking about the years of 1619 to 2019, I researched 1719, 1819 and 1919 also.

One of the first sources that appeared related to 1719 was a dissertation written by a scholar at Oxford. It included original documents related to what the English were doing to enhance the wealth-building from their North American colonial lands at that time.

Prisoners in English prisons were being given a choice between hanging or transportation to the colonies as indentured servants. Some did choose hanging, but thousands were shipped to what many called the West Indies at that time.

Some of those prisoners were accused of crimes such as stealing a bible from a library, grabbing a goose to feed their family, or were just nabbed off the street with no accused crime. Some of the women that were sent to America were accused of walking the street at night.

Shortly after those first African slaves were brought to the Jamestown colony, the Puritans on the Mayflower made it to Cape Cod. Half of them died, and they were helped by natives to learn how to plant corn and other staples, tap maples for syrup, and other survival skills. They were leaving oppression due to their different style of Christianity.

But their early help received and peaceful relationship with one tribe was one of the few cooperative stories of interactions with indigenous people.

And then a couple of generations later, they became famous for killing females who may have had neurological diseases, been mystical dreamers similar to Biblical prophets, or herbalists who had learned some wisdom from nature. They called them witches possessed by the devil.

So, by the time the colonists create our beautifully worded Declaration of Independence in 1776, proclaiming our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, our present East Coast is populated by an upper class of plantation and business owners, descendants of indentured servants, black slaves and some free, and religious groups who have escaped from intolerant establishment rulers.

However, this proclamation of rights is only meant for white, land-owning, adult males.

I read a book out of our public library this year with excellent scholarly documentation that showed good evidence through presidential, congressional and Supreme Court judicial decisions, speeches and documents that one of the fundamental reasons for the American revolution was that England and Mexico were ready to abolish slavery and the colonists were too dependent on slavery.

And every president right up to Lincoln and beyond had maintenance of slavery or some semblance of it as a top policy priority.

So then I looked at 1919, the year before women finally were granted the right to vote.

My grandparents had immigrated to the USA along with 20 million others between 1880 and 1920 as the workers for expanding industrial and farming economy. Since we live in Hawaii, 1894 as the illegal takeover of Hawaii should also be mentioned, along with grabbing Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

While the European immigrants were entering past the welcoming Statue of Liberty, Asian laborers were being imported to Hawaii for sugar cane workers and past the Golden Gate to build the railroads.

So what happened in 1919? There were raids on social clubs and all types of public meetings led by a young J. Edgar Hoover, spurred by racist senators who rounded up 10,000 people who were held in inhumane detention centers, preparing to deport them without trials.

Fortunately, due to the heroic work of a man named Louis F. Post, who had become secretary of labor, less than a thousand were deported and the rest were released. Post knew how to use the press to alert the public about what was happening and how to use the rules of law to stop these arrests without warrants.

So, here we are a hundred years after that travesty, and 243 years since the Declaration of Independence, 400 years since first slaves arrived, 125 years since Hawaii was stolen from the Hawaiians, 156 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, 56 years since the Civil Rights Act, 51 years since King and Bobby Kennedy were gunned down, 50 years since Woodstock and the Stonewall action, 18 years since the day we call 911, and there is a movement to demonize immigrants, we are constantly at war and pouring billions of dollars into military and not into education, housing and health.

We continue to have massacres at schools, synagogues, night clubs. We have the largest percentage of incarcerated people in the world. Millions of people in our world are homeless and finding no safe harbor to escape political violence.

Perhaps it may be worthwhile to take a day off to gather and educate ourselves, begin talking more intimately and deeply about what we want our world to look like for our great-grandchildren, forge a new functional declaration of freedom and peace, and find ways to resolve our fears with compassion and open hearts instead of walls.

If you would love to be part of co-creating Monday, Jan. 20, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at St. Michael and All Angeles Episcopal Church in Lihue, contact me at or call or text 346-2587.

The plan so far is for a segment of an hour or two to show video of King’s talks and other related tributes, probably between 10 a.m. and noon, then to have a roundtable discussion with brown-bag or potluck lunch to sit together at the table for a couple of hours, and complete the day with a mostly musical evening of inspiration and call to unity.


Steve Backinoff is a resident of Kapaa.

  1. Shirley Ventress November 30, 2019 9:17 am Reply

    We went on vacation to Maui a few years ago and I reread the book Hawaii by James Michener, It had been many years since I read it. I really read it and was appalled by how Hawaii was taken over much like the native Americans on the mainland. We recently came to Kauai and saw for ourselves what a beautiful place it is. Your article was beautifully written and so truthful. As an African American gay woman I can really relate on many levels. I won’t ever give up hope, I think that lies in God and the young people coming after us. I wish I was there for your program, I’m going to find something near me to celebrate Dr King’s life.

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