Hundreds of people gathered at the Idaho State Capitol Building the morning and early afternoon of Monday, Jan. 20 to observe the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the Living Legacy Celebration organized by Boise State University and the Idaho Human Rights Commission. But it wasn't just a birthday party, as many in the crowd extended the legacy of the fallen civil rights leader to contemporary civil rights issues like expansion of Medicaid benefits, "adding the words" to Idaho's Human Rights Act, advocating for education and raising the minimum wage.
The demonstration begun as a march from the Boise State Student Union Building and up Capitol Boulevard with a police escort to the Capitol steps, chanting slogans like, "A people united will never be divided."
When the procession arrived, speakers from Boise State delivered addresses on the legacy of Dr. King and the state of civil rights in Idaho, and a student group from Garfield Elementary School performed music in honor of the event. Speaker Osciel Salazar of Boise State reminded the audience that the struggle for civil rights is far from over, and remains a visceral fight in the lives of many.
"We use fancy words and theories, but in the end, we intimidate the people we're fighting for," he said. "Walk next to the people whose rights we're fighting for, not in front of them."
Javier Smith and a group of young people representing Youth Alliance for Diversity held a sign sporting a rainbow. He said that ignoring social problems like bigotry and hate doesn't make them go away.
"People are recognizing there are still elements that need to be addressed," he said.
Nearby, Michelle Gustin and a friend held pink and purple placards. Gustin's read "Pay Now or Pay Later" to advocate for Idaho's education system. For them, Idaho's education system is an ideal basis for ensuring the progression of the civil rights cause in the future.
"It's equality. It's about giving everyone equal opportunity," she said. "The people of Idaho are concerned about what's going on in our state."
Following the addresses in front of the Capitol, many moved inside, where Jill Gill, Boise State professor of history, delivered a cultural history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Idaho, arguing that states' rights have historically covered for human rights abuses.
In 1964, Idaho's entire Congressional delegation voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act, but Gill's examination of their correspondence with constituents shows that the majority of Idahoans who wrote their congressmen in the wake of the vote were against the landmark federal legislation.
In the end, Idaho was one of the last five states in the country to create a statewide holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gill said that Idaho's insistence on its sovereignty has allied it with Southern states that argued civil rights legislation infringed on their sovereignty—a legacy that is continued in Idaho's refusal to add protections for the LGBT community to the Idaho Human Rights Act or expand Medicaid.
"Only courageous stands for human rights can remake our image," she said.