How Cites are Commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day


  • Fiona Duncan
January 11, 2023 - (4 min read)

Since 1983, we have celebrated the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. every third Monday of January. King championed non-violent activism during the Civil Rights Movement, and cities, towns and villages have since commemorated him through peaceful demonstrations, the arts, educational opportunities, and community service. Here are a few ways that communities are celebrating the life of MLK this year:

Peace Walks and Parades

Washington, D.C.: On January 16, Martin Luther King Jr.’s family will lead more than 100 national and local civil rights and human rights organizations in a march for voting rights legislation at the Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday D.C. Peace Walk. The Peace Walk, organized by the D.C. MLK Holiday Committee, commemorates his life and legacy through an annual march and community services in Southeast DC. 

Houston, TX: There will be several parades in Houston, including the 45th Annual Original MLK Jr. Parade in Downtown Houston hosted by the Black Heritage Society. It will be a peaceful march, led by City of Houston dignitaries, marching bands, floats, and more. It will end in front of City Hall, where the MLK Festival will then begin, featuring live music, kid-friendly fun, craft vendors, performances, and special guests.

Denver, CO: Thousands come to Denver for the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Marade (March and Parade). The term “Marade” was coined in 1986 by Commission Chairperson Representative Wilma Webb, a word that means to parade and celebrate the victories achieved against injustices that had occurred, and march non-violently to always confront injustices in the future. Just like in previous years, organizers will be gathering donation items to distribute among local organizations including food, clothing and hygiene donations.

Celebrating the Arts

Cleveland, OH: The Cleveland Orchestra is offering free admission for their Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Concert. The program will include music by Black composers Florence Price and William L. Dawson, among several others, as well as Aaron Copland’s tribute to the 16th President of the United States, A Lincoln Portrait, marking 80 years since its premiere.

Portland, OR: The Portland Chamber Orchestra will perform a tribute concert to Martin Luther King Jr. titled “My Words are My Sword” over the holiday weekend, celebrating Black music and culture and including a performance by poet and actor Darius Wallace.

New Orleans, LA: The New Orleans Museum of Art is celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with free admission at the museum. There will be family-friendly art activities throughout the day, including a gallery talk with photographer Selwhyn Sthaddeus “Polo Silk” Terrell, and a performance by guitarist David Brooks.

Educating the Public

Chicago, IL: Museums will give free admission, including The Shedd, The Art Institute, the Field Museum, and the Chicago History Museum. The Chicago History Museum will have an all-day event to commemorate MLK, reflecting on his life and work—particularly the Chicago Freedom Movement—through special family-friendly activities and performances for all ages.

Memphis, TN: The National Civil Rights Museum will present King Day: An All-Day Celebration with free admission. King Day will kick off yearlong observances themed “Freedom Can’t Wait” as the Museum focuses on major civil rights milestones with anniversaries in 2023. The museum also continues its commitment to a day of service by encouraging guests to bring nonperishable food items and to give to the onsite blood drive.

Ames, IA: Iowa State will host their annual MLK Jr. Legacy Series with a lecture from Bree Newsome, a contemporary civil rights leader who first garnered national attention for her daring act of peaceful disobedience in June 2015. 

Community Service

Flossmoor, IL: The village of Flossmoor is celebrating its 9th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and encouraging its residents to volunteer with several options including community clean-ups, food drives, donating blood, and more.

Decatur, GA: Started in 2003, Decatur will again be hosting their The MLK Jr Service Project the weekend of January 14-16, 2023, which seeks to assist long-time City of Decatur residents/seniors homeowners to safely and comfortably remain in their homes by providing house maintenance and repair. Since the project started, project volunteers have installed handicap ramps, replaced rotten wood, weatherized homes, and repaired water damage.

Pennsylvania, PA: This year marks the 28th annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. Volunteers can sign up for one of the dozens of in-person service projects throughout the region, including meal prep and food distribution initiatives, community cleanups, and literacy programs.

About the Author

Fiona Duncan

About the Author

Fiona Duncan is a Digital Marketing Manager at the National League of Cities.