The Enduring Importance of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK_A-321x400Only three figures in American history have a national holiday named after them: President George Washington, Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Reverend King however is the only one who is a native born United States citizen. Whenever I write about King, I am reminded of this profound fact.

To have a day named in your honor is no small achievement. But it wasn’t easy to accomplish. It took 15 years after King was assassinated in 1968 until it was finally signed as a Federal bill by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. One of the more popular initiatives to win passage for the day was created by music legend Stevie Wonder who wrote and performed a song about Reverend King’s birthday called “Happy Birthday.” It is said that the song was an elegy to King and in effect a public shaming of those resistant to approving an MLK Day, including states such as North and South Carolina, and Arizona. Other states including Illinois, Massachusetts and Connecticut passed their own bills celebrating the occasion.

No less significant in securing approval were the actions of Reverend King’s wife, Coretta Scott King who spoke before congress for passage. Also active in this process were Congressman John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York who resubmitted the bill over the years, in each subsequent legislative session, until MLK Day passed. Today, every third Monday in January we observe the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., which this year falls on Jan. 16.

King’s reputation here in the United States and worldwide continued to grow in significance throughout his life. Perhaps his most important worldwide achievement is being chosen as the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But for me the “I have a Dream Speech” was the most profound gift given by Reverend King himself to the American people. It was a 17-minute speech he gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, to more than 200,000 supporters calling for the end of racial discrimination. I was not there, but I heard it delivered by Reverend King and it made me appreciate him more than any award he ever received.

Here are two delicious Southern dishes, loved by King, that remind us all how sweet and important MLK Day is for all ethnic, racial and religious people. The holiday is especially significant for those who wish to participate in the democratic experience called the American Dream that Reverend King held to be so precious for everyone.

pecan pie

Mom’s Pecan Pie

(Adapted from Southern Living)
8 servings

1½ cups pecan pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
¾ cup light or dark corn syrup
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
1 (9-inch) deep-dish frozen unbaked pie shell (Mrs. Smith’s Deep Dish Frozen Pie Shell suggested)

1. Spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.

2. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.

3. In a bowl, stir together eggs and next five ingredients; stir in pecans.

4. Pour filling into pie shell.

5. Bake at 350°F for 55 minutes or until set. Shield pie with aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Serve warm or cold.


collard greens
Collard greens

Collard Greens with Pork Fat

Makes 8 servings

2 bunches collard greens, stemmed
½ medium, sweet vidalia onions, cut into thin slices
½ lb pork fat, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 cup low fat chicken stock

1. After collard stems are removed, cut greens crosswise into 2-inch thick strips. Gather strips; cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Transfer to a large bowl of cold water; swish to remove grit. Transfer greens to a colander using a slotted spoon; let drain. Repeat until greens are clean.

2. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and pork fat; cook until onions are translucent and pork is crispy (about 6-7 minutes). Add greens; cook, stirring, until greens begin to wilt and are reduced in volume.

3. Raise heat to high; add vinegar. Cook, scraping up pork bits from bottom of skillet, until vinegar has evaporated, about 1 minute.

4. Add stock; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until greens are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. If making ahead of time, refrigerate, cover; when ready, reheat over low heat. The longer you cook, the deeper and more delicious the flavor.

Chef Allan ZoxPlease send comments, questions and observations of interest to Chef Alan Zox at For details about past columns, catering or Chef Zox’s blog, visit