Guide to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday honoring the life and legacy of the late civil rights activist who delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1960s. Each year on the third Monday of January, the nation's capital celebrates MLK Day with a variety of events at famous sites around Washington, D.C.

In 1994, to further commemorate the civil rights leader who lived his life in service to others, Congress declared his namesake holiday a national day of community service. Since then, the city's event lineup has incorporated many opportunities to give back to the D.C. community.

Whether you're a full-time Washingtonian or just a visitor, there are all kinds of ways to participate in Martin Luther King Jr. Day while in the capital city.

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Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr memorial, Washington D.C.

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Your first stop should probably be the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial on the National Mall. It's free and open all day every day (and has been for more than 30 years). MLK Day weekend is a great time to visit the famous memorial because National Park Service rangers will be on-site daily discussing King's role in the civil rights movement.

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Lend a Hand With the MLK Day of Service

Since 1994, communities across the U.S. have dedicated the third Monday of January to a day of civic engagement, neighborhood cleanup projects, and other forms of community service in honor of Dr. King's legacy. People are expected to participate in more than 1,000 projects (both group-organized and individual) in Washington, D.C., alone. If you're looking for some way to help, get involved with Serve D.C., the United Planning Organization, or Volunteer Fairfax.

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Take Part in the Peace Walk and Parade

On January 20, 2020, starting at 11 a.m., the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade returns to the man's namesake avenue and Milwaukee Place for its annual Peace Walk event. The parade, which was established by D.C. City Council in 1968 to promote the legacy of Dr. King, features the Ballou Marching Band and representatives from the area's Asian, Bolivian, Jamaican, and African American communities. This hour-long celebration also features a variety of musical performances, dancers, and various civil rights organizations still fighting for equal rights today. You can register to join the parade or simply watch from the sidelines.

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Hear Poetry and Music at the National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral

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For a taste of local culture, head to the Washington National Cathedral for its annual MLK Day service at 2 p.m. There will be poetry readings and musical performances by the cathedral and D.C.'s performing arts community.

This celebration honors Dr. King through a variety of special presentations, and following the service, the cathedral will host a commemorative pilgrimage called "Rosa and Martin, Martin and Rosa" that explores the relationship between Dr. King and fellow civil rights icon Rosa Parks. 

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Listen to a Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, from Potomac River

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MLK Day also marks the annual concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Partnering with Georgetown University, the Kennedy Center will present a free concert called Let Freedom Ring featuring the Let Freedom Ring Choir and other special guests.

Admission is free, but tickets are required to attend and will be distributed on the day of the event in front of the Concert Hall. Attendees should enter through the Hall of Nations, and overflow seating will be available at Millennium Stage North (near Eisenhower Theater) for patrons to view a simulcast of the performance.

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Witness a Wreath-Laying at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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On the morning of MLK Day, typically at 8 a.m., the National Parks Service hosts a wreath-laying service at the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech. Once the wreath is laid on the steps, there will be a moment of silence and likely performances by local choirs and elementary school students.