Martin Luther King Jr. Day may look like another Monday in January on the calendar, but the day holds a deeper meaning in Michigan and around the nation.
Many MLK Day events in Michigan continue to be held annually to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and a celebrated speaker who is perhaps best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
For nearly 40 years, MLK Day celebrations have been held, including many long-running events in Michigan. From marches and religious services to film screenings, panel discussions, and art exhibitions, King’s impact continues to be felt in Michigan and his legacy continues to be celebrated.
A History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in January each year. It honors the legacy of famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
A campaign for a day honoring King began soon after his assassination in 1968. It became a reality in 1983 when the holiday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. It was observed for the first time in 1986.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service coincides with the holiday and encourages citizens to use the day to perform acts of service. The day is coordinated nationally by AmeriCorps, which provides grants to different organizations to coordinate service activities. One of the largest events each year is the Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also observed internationally in some form by Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, and Israel.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Events Around Michigan
Detroit MLK Day Rally
8850 Woodward Ave., Detroit
This annual event commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in downtown Detroit. The event begins at noon at begins at St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church. A community meal follows the march.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Peace Walk Celebration
26275 Northwestern Hwy, Southfield
Southfield and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force annually host the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Peace Walk Celebration at 9 a.m. at Hope United Methodist Church. This year’s theme is “Peace and Justice for the Next Generation.”
A program follows the walk at Southfield Pavilion at 26000 Evergreen Road and a free international taste fest follows the program.
MLK Day at The Wright
315 E Warren Ave, Detroit
Each year, the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a daylong celebration of programming and experiences. The 2024 theme for the community celebration is “Living the Dream: It Starts with Me.”
Activities for the day include a family scavenger hunt, a virtual reality experience, that explores the themes of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, hands-on family workshops, a film screening, a keynote speaker and program, and different museum exhibitions.
Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.
20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn
Visitors can visit the museum’s civil rights exhibit, “With Liberty and Justice for All.” Some highlights in this exhibition include the Rosa Parks Bus, and several items related to Martin Luther King, Jr., include a memorial button, posters, pins, and a record album.
Admission and parking to the museum are free on MLK Day in recognition of the celebrated day of service.
Let Freedom Ring – MLK Birthday Celebration
2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit
Rainbow PUSH is hosting “Let Freedom Ring,” a free public event at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. The free event will honor luminaries whose deeds have exemplified the life of Dr. King.
MLK Day Virtual Community Conversation
Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School will host a community conversation for MLK remembrance on Jan. 16. The guest speaker, Dr. Joseph Silver Sr, will speak about maintaining the vision of freedom, justice, and equality.
Watch Dr. King’s Detroit speech
Dr. King visited Detroit in June 1963 and led a crowd of more than 100,000 down Woodward Ave to Cobo Arena during the “Walk to Freedom.”
After arriving at Cobo Arena, King gave a speech that featured parts of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave that August during the March on Washington.
Some of the speech was recorded and can be found on YouTube.
Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti
Eastern Michigan University hosts a week of events dedicated to the legacy of Dr. King.
The festivities start with a freedom walk where students, staff, and members of the community walk from the MLK statue on campus to the student center. Other events include a president’s luncheon, a book signing, a gallery opening, a panel discussion, and more.
MLK DAY Film Screening & Artist Talk
1120 E Kearsley St, Flint
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Flint Institute of Arts is hosting a free screening of Across the Tracks: Unveiling the Vibrant African-American Community on Flint’s Southside.
The film screening will be followed by an artist talk featuring Ed Watkins, who will share memories of growing up in Flint and discuss why he chose to document his community in his artwork.
This free program will take place in the FIA’s Isabel Hall.
MLK Day at the Holland Museum
31 W. 10th Street, Holland
This annual free event at the Holland Museum invites families to come and learn and honor the legacy of Dr. King. Families can listen to King’s Detroit speech in the Newsflash! The Story of Journalism in Holland exhibit and watch a video Our Friend Martin in the Spark!Lab Smithsonian space.
Visitors can also enjoy MLK-inspired crafts, a scavenger hunt, storytimes, and more. Visitors will also get activity pages and resources to take home to extend Dr. King’s lessons into their daily lives.
2024 MLK Day of Celebration
333 E Michigan Avenue, Lansing
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan will hold an MLK Day of Celebration event at Lansing Center.
The 2024 event will feature Ruby Bridges as its special guest. Bridges played a role in the desegregation of public education when she attended an all-white elementary school in New Orleans at age six. She has become a civil rights advocate, author, and speaker who will offer perspectives on race-related issues and civil rights.
Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Celebration
7400 Bay Rd, University Center
Saginaw Valley State University hosts an annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. King at Malcolm Ford Theatre. The 2024 event will be An Evening with Melissa Harris-Perry, a researcher and professor who teaches courses dealing with politics as it relates to race, place, and gender.
The event is free and features the presentation of MLK Scholarship Awards and Drum Major Awards, which recognize members of the Great Lakes Bay Region who advance King’s work and vision through their involvement in the community.
MLK Celebration at Alma College
Over the week of MLK Day, Alma College has several events planned to reflect on his legacy.
The lineup of activities includes a brunch with a keynote speaker and a series of workshops designed to bring students together to understand one another’s positions and discover their common values.
There’s also a scheduled blood drive and a Unity Celebration where attendees can celebrate the week’s events with dinner, community, and live entertainment.
Martin Luther King Jr. Week at Central Michigan University
The third week in January kicks off at Central Michigan University with a week’s worth of events to honor Dr. King. Most events are free and seating is first-come, first-served.
The events include a charity basketball game, a keynote speaker, a CommUNITY peace march and vigil, a day of service, and a CommUNITY peace service.
MLK Day Celebration in Battle Creek
Battle Creek hosts several events on MLK Day, including a chance for community members to participate in a day of service.
The events include an ecumenical service in observance of the day to reflect on his continued legacy, his challenges during the Civil Rights Movement, and the lessons his work teaches. The service also includes a guest speaker.
There is also a community equal opportunity dinner at Kellogg Arena to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy.
Honor a Powerful Legacy at an MLK Day Event in Michigan
From downtown Detroit and surrounding Metro Detroit cities to Flint, Battle Creek, and Lansing there is no shortage of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Michigan for those who want to honor the endearing legacy of Dr. King.
Whether you attend a community gathering or volunteer your time to complete acts of service, there are many ways Michigan residents young and old can learn about, explore, and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.