Origins of the Martin L. King, Jr. Federal Holiday

flickr photo by Julian Fong

flickr photo by Julian Fong

By Darius Wood

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is one of the ten federal holidays, and only one of two federal holidays that is for an individual – Washington’s Birthday is the other. “President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law on Nov. 2, 1983,” but the foundation for the bill was laid in the decade’s prior, spearheaded by King’s wife, Coretta Scott King.  As most know, Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to national acclaim for his nonviolent civil disobedience approach to racial and social justice issues facing the African American community. Shortly after Dr. King’s assignation on April 4, 1968 Congressman John Conyers Jr. introduced the first bill to make King’s Birthday, January 15, a federal holiday.  This attempt failed, but the effort persisted; in 1971 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference presented a petition to Congress containing 3 million signatures.  Unfortunately, this attempt too failed. In 1979, Mrs. King, testified before the Senate and a joint session of Congress in support of the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday leading President Carter to urge Congress to pass a bill making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.  This bill fell short by 5 votes in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the momentum continued and in 1980 Stevie Wonder released a song, “Happy Birthday,” celebrating Dr. King’s legacy.  Later in 1982, Mrs. King presented another petition containing 6 million signatures to their representatives.  The next year, in 1983 the House of Representatives finally passed the bill by 338 to 90, making the third Monday in January a national holiday.  The Senate then passed the bill by a vote of 78-22. President Reagan signed Public Law 98-144 establishing the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, beginning in 1986. Sources:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s