CHICAGO — While there were countless ceremonies and events honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday, some blacks in the city found more unusual — but meaningful — ways to remember the civil rights leader.
For the last three years, Marvin Mullen has honored King by going out to eat — and sitting at a table in the window in front.
The 53-year old social service employee, who ate lunch Monday with his wife and a friend at Leona's in the Hyde Park community on the South Side, noted the chain opened at a time when blacks and whites were forced to eat separately at restaurants in states with Jim Crow laws.
“When this restaurant opened in the 1950s, blacks could not be seated upfront, but today we can sit anywhere,” recalled Mullen, who lives in Bronzeville on the South Side. “I want Dr. King to know that his efforts were not done in vain, and that blacks are taking full advantage to sit wherever they please at any restaurant.”
Lentoi Royston, 26, chose to honor King by taking the bus — and by sitting up front — for her daily commute from her home in Woodlawn to her job as a retail store clerk in Roseland.
“Blacks at one point could not sit up front on a public bus and had to take a seat in the back of the bus,” said Royston, who normally drives. “So, I am taking the bus to work today, and I am sitting at the very front of the bus.”
Maurice Shields, 38, who is black, took a stroll in Bridgeport with his white girlfriend, Melanie Foster — an action that could have gotten him killed during King’s era.
“We decided to walk through a white neighborhood holding hands and hugged up,” Shields said.
The majority of residents in the neighborhood are white, according to census data, but the Hyde Park couple experienced no problems Monday.
“America has come a long way in regards to racial equality. It is now socially acceptable to date and marry someone from a different race, especially between blacks and whites,” said Foster, 44. “There are plenty of interracial couples these days. Look at Michael Jordan and his girlfriend, [music producer] Quincy Jones and his wife, and let’s not forget [actor] Sidney Poitier and his wife.”
King’s birthday is Jan. 15 but the occasion observed on the third Monday of January each year after then President Ronald Reagan signed legislation into law recognizing the day as a national holiday in 1983. Illinois was the first state to make the day a state holiday in 1973.
While public workers had the day off, not all private workplaces were closed.
Taking off work on King Day is a great way to honor the civil rights leader, said Flynn Tolmaire, a 49-year old security guard who resides in the Austin community on the West Side.
“Most of my black friends, relatives and neighbors take off work on Dr. King Day even if it is an unpaid day,” he said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about making sure what Dr. King did for blacks is actually carried out every day and every year.”