Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday A Long Time Coming
Atlanta, GA – Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday devoted to the ideals of the civil rights era leader. But like the struggle for civil rights, it took many years and the changing of minds to establish this holiday.
In April of 1968, Congressman John Conyers, a democrat from Michigan, introduces the first legislation for a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, just four days after Dr. King is assassinated. In January of the following year, the King Center, founded the preceding year by Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, sponsors the first observance of Dr. King’s birthday. It becomes the model for subsequent annual commemorations of his birthday nationwide. In April of 1971, petitions with 3 million signatures in support of a King holiday are presented to the US Congress, but congress takes no action.
In 1973, the first state King holiday bill is signed into law in Illinois. Massachusetts and Connecticut follow suit in 1974. In 1978, the National Council of Churches calls on Congress to pass the King Holiday.
Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, the King Center keeps up the pressure on congress to enact a national federal holiday, including petitions with more than 6 million signatures presented to then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in 1982. In 1983 the House of Representatives passes King Holiday Bill, providing for the King Holiday to be observed on the third Monday in January. A similar bill is also passed in the Senate that same year, and in November, President Reagan signs the bill, making it a national holiday.
The first observance of the new holiday is January 20th 1986, and by 1989, 44 of the 50 states also officially celebrate the holiday.
Today, the King holiday is celebrated in U.S. installations and is observed by local groups in more than 100 other nations. Trinidad and other nations have also established a holiday in honor of Dr. King. It has also become a day devoted to community and humanitarian service and an example of interracial cooperation.
Thanks to the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia for the information in this report.