New Hampshire was the last state in the union to officially celebrate a holiday honoring Martin Luther King by name. It took 20 years of trying, but proponents of the King holiday finally won out.
The Rev. Bertha Perkins remembered the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee and specifically its executive director, Arnie Alpert. “Arnie was the key person. He was the motivator, he was the one that got things started. He was quiet, but when he spoke you listened. And I know for a fact that were it not for his efforts, this bill would not have passed.”
At a time when everyone has a social network in their pocket, it’s important to remember that activists spreading the word did so the old fashioned way. Perkins says, “it was work, you get on the phone and you make more calls and more calls.” Organizing a crowd took more than posting a tweet, it took hours of person to person interaction. And AFSC organized a lot of crowds to show up at public input sessions, committee hearings, house votes, rallies, etc.
And it was a long fight. Perkins kept the words of Adam Clayton Powell (late US –Rep for Brooklyn, and civil rights activist) used to say “keep the faith.” But there were times when it was hard to keep the faith, because you just didn’t think it was going to happen.
The law adding King’s name to the holiday was signed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in June of 1999, the holiday first celebrated in 2000. “When that bill passed, it felt wonderful. A wonderful peace and a wonderful joy on the inside,” says Perkins. She called it a fitting memorial for the man who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for equal rights.
“I am proud to live in NH but I am also proud of the people who have tried to make NH a better place to live in. The AFSC are still fighting for the cause, for the person who may not have a voice.”
Audio from the bill signing ceremony in 1999.