“It should be a great event,
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died
For the oneness of all people…

— From Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday”
     In honor of the MLK Holiday

Loved ones of martyred civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. are reacting to an ad that surfaced in recent days using unauthorized images of his likeness to advertise a teen dance party in Michigan over the King holiday weekend.

“Freedom 2 Twerk Martin Luther King Day Weekend Party” reads a flyer from an organization called Mid-Michigan Teen Parties. The ad features a photo of King in a black sweater wearing an oversized gold medallion and appearing to throw a gang sign. A second picture of King is visible in the top left corner. A teenage girl in a letterman’s jacket smiles from the other side of the ad. It advertises a party scheduled for Jan. 18.

In an interview with Fox News in Atlanta, King’s daughter, Dr. Bernice King, a minister who serves as CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, said the family opposes such use of his image.

“I’m sad, really, that its come to the point where there is a generation that has no appreciation and no understanding for what my father stood for.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday was signed into law in 1983. It was conceived as a time for the national to slow down for a day to celebrate the work of the slain civil rights leader and the immense contribution he made in the effort to end racial and economic oppression. It was also designed to give Americans a day to pay homage to King and others who took part in the freedom struggle by attending a service or giving back by volunteering.

And while the significance of the holiday is demonstrated in the many people who participate in the commemoration, each year the holiday is bastardized by those seeking to make a buck off the esteem people hold for King. Just like they do for Presidents Day, the Fourth of July and other days that were set aside to celebrate our nation’s greatness, each year, retailers and owners of other businesses trot out sales for everything from food items to furniture in MLK Day Weekend sales.

While all of the ads demonstrate bad taste, some go completely over the top. In 2011, Sears was criticized for taking 50 percent off mattresses during its “MLK Savings Event.” That same year, a surf shop in overwhelmingly-White Laguna Beach, Calif., drew anger not only for holding a sale on King Day Weekend, but for offering 20 percent off black clothing and other items in the store. The sale was advertised on a black and white sign bearing a likeness of King dressed in a black surfer outfit.

“RESPECT,” the top line of the ad read. “MLK Sale. 20 Percent Off All Black Products.”

Ad Week magazine called it “The Year’s Most Offensive MLK Day Sale Ad.” By way of explanation, the store’s owner told the magazine: “It’s our slow time of the year, so we’re always getting creative.”

Kmart, which several years ago ran an ad entitled “Celebrate Black History Month” that featured 3 for $1 Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix and 3 for $10 Tone 6-Bar Soap, in 2012 created a coupon code in celebration of the day—MLKDAY—for customers who chose to shop online over the King weekend.

Mlive.com reported that the party that was advertised on the King ad in Flint, Mich., has been cancelled. According to the website, the owner of the venue, Vic McEwen, did not approve of the imagery.

“For what Dr. King and some of our fallen giants have done not just for black America but for our country as a whole…it’s very sad,” McEwen said.

Frances Gilcreast, president of the Flint NAACP, agreed that some young ones have not been taught King’s significance.

“If they can ever tie baggy pants and gold chains to Dr. Martin Luther King, they don’t know the history of this man,” she said.

Several young people told the AFRO they think King still should be celebrated.

“My parents are from the South, so I was taught about the Civil Rights Movement—Selma, Montgomery, Jackson,” said Donald Avery, 17, of Gaithersburg. “Some young people, like everybody else, are just ignorant. Whoever would put a picture of Dr. King on a flyer with a medallion is just ignorant.”

D.D. Sanders, 19, of Columbia, said many of her peers and their parents believe in the concept of a post-racial America and that causes them to be less concerned about King and others from the Civil Rights Movement.

“My mother and father are not from Mississippi or Tennessee, they are from D.C. and Maryland and they were called ‘n****r ’ and it wasn’t that long ago. They are in their 40s,” she said. “We better be paying attention to Dr. King and what he said and being serious, not putting his face on a flyer about a dance. Even at my age I can see that there is less concern now about including Blacks. Look at what’s happening in Washington D.C. You don’t even see that many Black people when you go there now. We better be learning how to march and demand our rights and stop all this dancing.”

Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer