I just never understood...

I make no apology. No apology to generations of students for whom that track has provided a recurrent opener to January assemblies over the years. And has done so again this week. I reprise its main themes here, again with no apology.

Stevie Wonder’s call, echoing that of so many others and finally granted in 1983, was that ‘a man who died for good’ should ‘have a day that would be set aside for his recognition’.

Last Monday, 21st January, was Martin Luther King Jr. Day; a federal holiday in the United States, following then President Ronald Reagan’s signing of a bill on 2 November 1983 marking the third Monday of every January as a celebration King's birthday on 15 January 1929, honouring his legacy of peaceful protest and the moral imperative for change, as well shining a light on the continued issue of civil rights.


King, the son of a pastor who followed his father into the ministry when he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954, grew up in an America scarred by segregation...

Civil Rights

His emergence as the leader of the civil rights movement is usually associated with his seminal role in co-ordinating the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat in the White’s only section of the district’s segregated buses...

Rosa Parks


An event whose significance as a global turning point was creatively highlighted to a new audience in a recent, and widely acclaimed episode of Dr Who...

Dr Who

King’s subsequent leadership of the the civil rights movement is of course often seen as culminating in what is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest and most iconic speech of the twentieth century...

However, despite the subsequent passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal, King continued to represent the cause of disadvantaged Americans, irrespective of their colour or creed.

It was in that context that King travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968 to give his support to the city’s poorly-paid, striking sanitation workers. To an overflowing crowd, he delivered his lesser heard but no less powerful ‘I have been to the mountaintop’ speech...

It was chillingly prophetic.

The day after delivering it he was shot, and killed on the balcony of his hotel room.

He was thirty-nine years old.

I just never understood.