Today, Milwaukee Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

Milwaukee has one of the longest-standing birthday parties in the country for this American hero.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in New York City. “We must speak,” he said. “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

These words inspired the theme for his Milwaukee birthday celebration this year. Students from across the city will submit art, speeches and performances about his words, and winners will present their work at the Marcus Performing Arts Center on Jan. 17, King’s birthday.



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This is the 38th annual celebration, making Milwaukee and Atlanta the only two cities in the country to host the event consecutively for so long. Most years, the celebration brings in around 800 people, but last year the event went virtual due to the pandemic and doubled the audience.

“I couldn’t allow this to drop off and have a gap in our legacy,” says Anthony D. Smith, the Marcus Center’s director of community engagement and inclusion. This year’s event will have virtual options as well so that it can reach as many people as possible. There will also be demonstrations from local arts and culture organizations.

“The things that Dr. King believed in and wrote about and spoke about and lived were unity and inclusiveness,” Smith says. “Sometimes we just need reminders of that. That’s why we need to continue to put that message out.”


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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Alli Watters is the digital and culture editor at Milwaukee Magazine. That means that in addition to running this website, she covers art, entertainment, style, home and more for the magazine. It also means she doesn't sleep much.