MLK Day largely unspoiled by commercialism

Leola Butler was 20 in 1963, when she collected nickels to catch a train to Washington, D.C. to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the March on Washington.

At 73, the Seffner woman is remembering those moments and reflecting on how the country - and the world - honors Dr. King's legacy.

"I was a foot soldier," she said.

She said she remembers seeing King say, "I have a dream today," from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"We were just, 'wow,'" she said. "I just knew this was a change in the way things would be. I just knew that, I don't know exactly why. I just knew it."

For 30 years, the country has celebrated Dr. Kings cause with a federal holiday on the third Monday of January. 

This year in Tampa, thousands attended events across the Bay area. There was a prayer breakfast in Tampa, a parade in St. Petersburg, a "Day of Service" in Washington, D.C. with the first black president in attendance, and countless other festivals and remembrances.

But commercially, no one has cashed in, at least not in the way many do with ads for sales on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas.

If you search, "Martin Luther King holiday commercial," on, only a few results are returned - beyond a McDonald's ad from the holiday's first year. 

Butler said she is glad retailers have stayed away.

She says "The Dream" is still a dream, and that the holiday should command attention for the cause itself.

"I get disrespected at 73," she said. "I know it's only because I am a black woman."

University of Tampa marketing professor Erika Matulich says the holiday is hard for retailers to exploit, because there is still deep national shame about America's past racial injustices, as well as differing opinions about whether America offers a fair shake even today.

"There is a while different feeling about what that freedom means to people than perhaps what goes along with some of the other holidays that we do celebrate," she said.

Butler said she spends the day thinking about the meaning of the memento she is leaving behind to her grandkids, something you can't buy on sale.

It's the original program from The March on Washington, for which see was a participant.

"This is a reminder of what your grandparents really tried to help to accomplish," the note reads to her grandson.