How Martin Luther King Jr. Day came to be.
Martin Luther King Day is the third Monday in January.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is one of the most well known figures of the Civil Rights Movement. He spent the majority of his life fighting racism, oppression and violence with love, peace, and understanding. To this day, he is the only American since George Washington to be honored with a national holiday but achieving an honor this great was no easy feat.
King’s Life and Death
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often credited with being the face of the Civil Right Movement. He is probably most well known as the orator of the “I Have a Dream “ speech that he delivered at the March on Washington in 1963. In his quest for equality he endured imprisonment and violence. As he peacefully protested racism and segregation attacks were made on him and his family but he wouldn't let hatred halt his message of tolerance. Even when faced with hatred and oppression his message was always one of peace and acceptance. In 1955 he helped organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott and in 1963 he headed the March on Washington, two of the most cited events of the Civil Rights Movement. On April 4, 1968 he was assassinated while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. His tragic death was the beginning of the crusade to have a day named in his honor.
Support for observance of a national Martin Luther King Jr. Day was immediate following his death. Just three days after King’s death President Lydon B. Johnson declared April 7, 1968 a national day of mourning. Four days after his death Congressman John Conyers of Michigan introduced legislation that would make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. Though Conyers and other supporters of this bill couldn’t garner enough support to see this bill become law, the fight for a King Holiday was just beginning. Other prominent figures, like politician, like Shirley Chisholm, musician Stevie Wonder, and King’s widow Corretta Scott King fought hard to make King day a reality.
Just as support for Martin Luther King Jr. Day was immediate, so was opposition to it. Numerous reasons were cited from various opposing parties. Some felt that other Americans were more deserving of a national day in their honor. Others felt that a national holiday would be too much of a drain on the budget, particularly since the proposed date for Martin Luther King Jr. Day would fall within weeks of the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays. More opposition came from racist parties that didn't feel that King or any black man was worthy of such an honor.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day becomes a reality
In the decades following his death, King’s supporters were unyielding in their attempts to have a day named in his honor. The bill for Martin Luther King Jr. Day was submitted in every legislative session following King’s death until it was finally passed and became a law. On November 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the bill declaring that the third Monday in January of every year would officially be observed as a national holiday commemorating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.