ATLANTA — The federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. has taken on added meaning for most Americans this year as they try to make sense of the violence in Arizona that left six people dead and a member of Congress fighting for her life.
A state that once resisted the notion of a federal King holiday — and last year was the setting for a sharp-tongued debate on immigration — now finds itself in search of solace after the Jan. 8 attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, and the throng of people around her outside a grocery store in Tucson.
King, a pacifist Southern preacher, had his own life cut short by gun violence.
“Dr. King’s message was about inclusion and the recognition of human dignity, of human rights, and making sure that all of our voices are heard,’’ said Imani Perry, an African-American studies professor at Princeton University. “I hope people in Arizona, in particular, embrace that part of his message. The politics in Arizona recently have often seemed to revolve around excluding people.’’
Today marks the 25th federal observance of the birth of King, whose words were often met with hate and resistance during one of the nation’s most turbulent eras. King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, was killed in 1968 at age 39.
“So little of his real politics show up in these annual commemorations,’’ said Morgan State University professor Jared Ball. “Instead of actually reading what he wrote or listening to what he said, we pick catch phrases and throw his name around. We all feel for the tragic incident that took place in Arizona, but this is happening to people all over the world every day in one form or another.’’