.by Anura Guruge
Given that I have lived in New Hampshire since 1986, I clearly recall when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was not a holiday in New Hampshire. In those days I used to work in Massachusetts and it was a holiday there. I remember Danielle going to school in New Ipswich when there was no mention of Dr. King and a holiday.
Town of Alton, New Hampshire where I have lived since 2007, to my embarrassment, does NOT celebrate MLK Day. Town Hall and other facilities, including dump, are open on MLK Day.
I also remember, quite vividly, the day in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated — though I had no idea who he was at that stage. I had come to the U.S., for the first time, on September 4, 1967 — my 14th birthday (my father, a great one for anniversaries planning our trip from Ceylon to the U.S. such that we left on August 27, my parent’s wedding anniversary and arrived in New York on September 4, my birthday). We lived in Buffalo, NY and I was attending Kensington High School in Buffalo — just a few blocks away from the very urban, working class neighborhood with subsidized housing that we lived in. It was a big impressive school; very friendly and accommodating. It had a huge swimming pool in the basement. That is where I learned to swim — being able to swim being mandatory in NY. The school was integrated and I was too naive to know if there was any strife. I didn’t see any. Since I ‘messed’ about on a number of sporting teams, with singular lack of distinction, I interacted with a lot of black kids. Most found it funny that I couldn’t run fast. They would try to teach me to run. One of them would run backwards urging me to keep up with him. It was, as far as I could tell, a happy school. I only saw one real fight and it was between two white kids, one of whom I knew.
Anyway, this day in Spring, as the snow was melting, the Fire Alarm rang. We all trooped outside. There were a lot of kids. Not sure how many. But, it was SMALL compared to Ananda College, my school in Ceylon. That was three schools in one, kindergarten all the way up to ‘A-levels’: lower-school, middle-school and upper-school. It had 6,000 kids, all brown, all boys and (in theory) all Buddhists. Anyway, back to Kensington. As we were standing outside, a BUZZ started. Kids were getting agitated. No problems. Just agitation and groups of kids talking, animated. Eventually we all trooped back. No sooner than we got in the alarm went off again. There were three alarms that day. The story was that black kids were pulling the alarm in protest. That is how I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his tragic assassination.
In 1991 NH changed its archaic ‘Fast Day’ to ‘Civil Rights Day’ — albeit with no mention of Dr. King.
In 1999, the ‘Civil Rights Day’ was officially changed to
“Martin Luther King Day”,
NH thus becoming the last state to have a holiday named after