Free Martin Luther King Jr. Day Events Abound in Cleveland

Tell us what this holiday means to you and how you will celebrate.

Monday, Jan. 21 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

For some, the national holiday honoring the prominent civil rights activist is a time to do community service, be it through removing graffiti or picking up litter in a local park.

For others, it’s an opportunity to educate themselves about King and his life's work. And for others, it’s a time to just kick back and enjoy the prolonged weekend.

Looking for something to do? Cleveland, with its wealth of cultural institutions, celebrates King's life with free museums, community concerts, and regional theater presentations. 

  • Cleveland Orchestra Free Concert - 7 p.m. Jan. 20, at Severance Hall, University Circle. Admission is free, but tickets are required. However, all free tickets had been distributed as of Jan. 2. The concert will be broadcast  live on radio stations WCLV (104.9 FM) and WCPN (90.3 FM).
  • Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program - a panel of community leaders will discuss King's legacy at 1 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Cleveland Public Library's Martin Luther King Jr. Branch, 1962 Stokes Blvd., Cleveland
  • A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. - A worship service will feature music from the African-American tradition with The Cleveland School of the Arts R. Nathaniel Dett Concert Choir, bass-baritone Robert Cantrell, and soprano Kelli Young. Service begins at 10 a.m.; recital begins at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at Church of the Covenant, 11205 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
  • Martin Luther King Memorial Recital - More than 10 music groups, including the Cleveland Boys Choir, will perform a free concert of jazz, blues, gospel and classical music at 3 p.m. Jan. 15 in the Glick Recital Hall at The Music Settlement, 11125 Magnolia Dr., Cleveland. 
  • Cleveland Museum of Natural History - free admission to Smead Discovery Center on the lower level from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum also will have free take-home craft activities in the Smead Discovery Center, Wildlife demonstrations and meet-and-greets with curators showcasing specimens from the collections, and visitors can examine nature's materials with scientists/students from Case Western Reserve University.
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - Free admission for Cleveland residents. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • Western Reserve Historical Society - Free admission. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Cleveland Botanical Garden - Free admission. Hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Kids can make a craft using seeds and plants important to African culture.
  • The Rink at Wade Oval - Free admission. Open from noon to 5 p.m.
  • The Children’s Museum of Cleveland Half-price admission ($3.50). Visitors can help create a Peace Mural or participate in a number of activities between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. 
  • Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage - Free admission. At 1:30 p.m., hear a special musical presentation followed by A Conversation After a Funeral, a new one-act play by Cleveland playwright Dr. Mary Weems. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Holiday's History

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, now a U.S. holiday, took 15 years to create.

Legislation was first proposed by Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) four days after King was assassinated in 1968.

The bill was stalled, but Conyers, along with Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-New York), pushed for the holiday every legislative session until it was finally passed in 1983, following civil rights marches in Washington. 

Then-president Ronald Reagan signed it into law. Yet it was not until 2000 that every U.S. state celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by its name. Before then, states like Utah referred to the holiday more broadly as Human Rights Day. 

Now, the Corporation for National and Community Service has declared it an official U.S. Day of Service.

What does MLK Day mean to you? Tell us in the comments.


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