How Martin Luther King, Jr Day Came To Be?

A Look At How Martin Luther King Day Became A National Holiday

The contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. go without saying. Dr. King’s efforts and sacrifices for African-Americans, his dream, his speeches, all make him one of the most prominent individuals in American History. Still, considering his assassination, and the lack of mainstream American acknowledgment of many other prominent heroes of African-American culture, the question has to be asked, how did Martin Luther King day become a national holiday that the entire country celebrates annually.

The third Monday of January every year since 1986 has been dedicated to honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King for what we know as Martin Luther King Day. The third Monday of the year generally falls around Dr. King’s birthday, January 15th.

Shortly after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968 there began an active push for Martin Luther King day. The first bill was introduced in Congress in 1979. Initially the bill was rejected.

Martin Luther King day

Stevie Wonder’s rendition of Happy Birthday was actually an instrumental part of a campaign to commemorate Dr. King with a day. A petition continuing the request for a national holiday was launched in 1981 garnering over 6 million signatures.

Opposition to the holiday was big, as can be imagined, from politicians and average citizens. Even President Reagan, who would eventually sign the bill making Martin Luther King day an official holiday, expressed concerns. However, much like he had overcome many trials and tribulations in life, Dr. King overcame the obstacles in death as well.

In 1983, a bill proposed by Katie Hall a representative from Indiana passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 330 to 90, enough to override a veto. Ronald Reagan signed the bill on November 2, 1983.

On January 20, 1986, for the first time ever the country celebrated Martin Luther King day, making him just the third individual in America to have a national holiday to honor them (George Washington and Christopher Columbus are the others).

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Kevin Benoit

Kevin Benoit is the editor of Parlé Magazine. He founded the magazine while in college and continues to run it today. Follow him on IG: @parlewithme Read more articles by Kevin.

Kevin Benoit has 1777 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin Benoit


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