Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for racial equality and justice made him one of America's most revered figures. In the political upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s, the Nobel-Peace-Prize winner preached—and lived by—nonviolent activism. Although he was jailed 29 times, his efforts led to two landmark pieces of legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
On Jan. 17, celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by visiting California's tribute sites, volunteering for a day of service, attending special events, or learning more about the great man's life and legacy.
1) Visit MLK memorial sites
There's no better place in San Francisco to contemplate King's teachings than at Yerba Buena Gardens' Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Revelation is a 50-foot-high manmade waterfall that splashes over Sierra granite into a 120,000-gallon pool—a serene spot to ponder King's timeless quotations, etched into 12 glass panels.
Or meet King on a Los Angeles mountain top: Perched at the highest point in 400-acre Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Tree Grove offers an eye-popping view of LA's skyline backed by the rugged San Gabriel Mountains. Admire the vista as you reflect on passages from King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which are inscribed on a granite obelisk.
Stroll along San Diego's Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade, a 0.6-mile pathway connecting the Gaslamp Quarter and Marina District, while reading 30 plaques engraved with King's words. Or visit downtown Riverside, where a bronze monument by sculptor Lisa Reinertson depicts King marching in peaceful protest with two children at his side.
2) Volunteer for a Day of Service
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is the only federal holiday designated as a Day of Service, when Americans are asked to help out their communities. Many California nonprofit organizations—including East Bay Parks, LA Works, and HandsOnSanDiego—organize Martin Luther King Day volunteer activities like delivering meals, mentoring children, or cleaning up public parks.
3) Attend a virtual or in-person event
The California African American Museum in L.A.'s Exposition Park will host a series of family-friendly events including a discussion about King’s 1967 speech “A Christmas Sermon on Peace" and a performance by the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, America's largest majority African American orchestra.
L.A.'s 37th Annual Kingdom Day Parade has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, but marchers can take to San Francisco's streets in the NorCal MLK Foundation's March and Parade. The parade route runs from San Francisco's Caltrain Station to Yerba Buena Gardens, where the free MLK Music Festival takes place.
4) Dive deeper into King's life and work
Browse the website of Stanford University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute to discover an outstanding collection of King's sermons, speeches, and correspondence. Listen to the institute's World House Podcast or peruse the Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia with more than 280 articles about people, events, and organizations that were connected to King and the civil rights movement.
Register in advance to attend the Martin Luther King Virtual Film Festival 2022, presented by Oakland's African American Museum and Library. The Zoom-based festival features six films about the civil rights movement followed by a discussion led by the museum's chief curator.
5) Learn about King's California speeches
From 1955 until his death, King traveled to California and spoke to large audiences at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, Oakland's Municipal Auditorium (now Oakland Civic Center), San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, and what is now San Diego State University and Sacramento State University. For an in-depth look at his Los Angeles–area speeches, read this Curbed Los Angeles article.