Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the American federal holiday. For Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actual birthday, see January 15.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King press conference 01269u edit.jpg
Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964
Official name Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Also called MLK Day, King Day
Observed by United States
Type National
Date Third Monday in January
2013 date January 21  (2013-01-21)
2014 date January 20  (2014-01-20)
2015 date January 19  (2015-01-19)
2016 date January 18  (2016-01-18)
Frequency annual

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.)[1] is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15. The floating holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.


Sign from 1969 promoting a holiday to honor the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The idea of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations.[2] After King's death, United States Representative John Conyers (a Democrat from Michigan) and United States Senator Edward Brooke (a Republican from Massachusetts) introduced a bill in Congress to make King's birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979. However, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage.[3] Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive, and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition (King had never held public office).[3] Only two other people have national holidays in the United States honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

Soon after, the King Center turned to support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as "the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history."[2]

Ronald Reagan and Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day signing ceremony

At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a federal holiday to honor King.[4][5] It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.

The bill established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to oversee observance of the holiday, and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife, was made a member of this commission for life by President George H. W. Bush in May 1989.[6][7]

Reluctance to observe[edit]

Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Helms criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism".[8] Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a "packet of filth", threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it.[9][10]

President Ronald Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. He later signed the measure, after it passed with a 338 to 90 margin in favor in the House of Representatives.[8]

Former Arizona governor Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created the holiday in Arizona by executive order just before he left office in 1986, but his Republican successor Evan Mecham, armed with an attorney general's opinion that Babbitt's order was illegal, rescinded it days after he took office.[11] In 1989, the Arizona state legislature replaced Columbus Day with the King holiday.[12] In 1990, Arizonans were given the opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. In 1990 the National Football League threatened to move the Super Bowl that was planned to be in Arizona in 1993 if the MLK holiday was voted down.[12] The state legislature passed a measure to keep both Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Day, but 76% of voters rejected the King holiday. Consequently, the state "lost $500 million and the Super Bowl" which moved to Pasadena, California.[12] In a referendum in 1992, the voters approved recognition of the holiday.[13]

In 1991, the New Hampshire legislature created "Civil Rights Day" and abolished "Fast Day".[14] In 1999, "Civil Rights Day" was officially changed to "Martin Luther King Day," becoming the last state to have a holiday named after Dr. King.[15]

On May 2, 2000, South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday an official state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees. Prior to this, employees could choose between celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate holidays.[16]

Overall, in 2007, 33% of employers gave employees the day off, a 2% increase over the previous year. There was little difference in observance by large and small employers: 33% for firms with over 1,000 employees; and, 32% for firms with under 1,000 employees. The observance is most popular among nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers.[17] The reasons for this have varied, ranging from the recent addition of the holiday, to its occurrence just two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when many businesses are closed for part or sometimes all of the week. Additionally, many schools and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but may hold seminars or celebrations of King's message. Some factories and manufacturers used MLK Day as a floating or movable holiday. Many business that used to close on Presidents' Day now stay open on that day and close on MLK Day instead.[citation needed]

Alternative names[edit]

While all states now observe the holiday, some did not name the day after King. In Utah, the holiday was known as "Human Rights Day" until 2000,[18] when the Utah State Legislature voted to change the name of the holiday from Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In that same year Governor Michael O. Leavitt signed the bill officially naming the holiday "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day".[18][19]

In Virginia, it was known as Lee-Jackson-King Day, combining King's birthday with the established Lee-Jackson Day.[18] The incongruous nature of the holiday, which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate Army generals and a civil rights icon, did not escape the notice of Virginia lawmakers. In 2000, Lee-Jackson Day was moved to the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday in its own right.[20]

Mississippi still shares this celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday on the third Monday of January and Robert E. Lee's birthday January 19.[21]

In Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. and General Robert E. Lee share the paid state holiday on the third Monday of January.

In Arizona, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is known as "Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day";[22] while in New Hampshire, its official name is "Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day".[23]

King Day of Service[edit]

In honor of the Martin Luther King Day of Service, President Barack Obama serves lunch in the dining room at So Others Might Eat, a soup kitchen in Washington, January 18, 2010.

The national Martin Luther King Day of Service[24] was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. The federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994. Since 1996, Wofford's former state office director, Todd Bernstein, has been directing the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service,[25] the largest event in the nation honoring Dr. King.[26]

Several other universities and organizations around the U.S., such as Arizona State University, Greater DC Cares and City Year, participate in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. In honor of MLK, hundreds of Volunteer Centers, and volunteers across the country donate their time to make a difference on this day.

Outside the USA[edit]

One place outside the United States where Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed with equal importance is in the Japanese city of Hiroshima under mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who holds a special banquet at the mayor's office as an act of unifying his city's call for peace with King's message of human rights.[27]

The city of Toronto, Canada, is another city that has officially recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day, although it is not a paid holiday in Toronto, and all government services and businesses remain open.[28]

In 1984, during a visit by the U.S. Sixth Fleet, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli Presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, held in the President's Residence, Jerusalem. Mrs. Aura Herzog, wife of Israel's then-President Chaim Herzog, noted that she was especially proud to host this special event, because Israel had a national forest in honor of Dr. King, and that Israel and Dr. King shared the idea of "dreams".[29] Resnicoff continued this theme in his remarks during the ceremony, quoting the verse from Genesis, spoken by the brothers of Joseph when they saw their brother approach, "Behold the dreamer comes; let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams." Resnicoff noted that, from time immemorial, there have been those who thought they could kill the dream by slaying the dreamer, but – as the example of Dr. King's life shows – such people are always wrong.[30]

See also[edit]

A Martin Luther King Day march


  1. ^ "Federal Holidays". Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Jones, William P. (January 30, 2006). "Working-Class Hero". The Nation. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Wolfensberger, Don (January 14, 2008). "The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday: The Long Struggle in Congress, An Introductory Essay". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2011. 
  4. ^ Woolley, John T.; Gerhard Peters (November 2, 1983). "Ronald Reagan: Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday". The American Presidency Project. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2011. 
  5. ^ Pub.L. 98–399, 98 Stat. 1475, enacted November 2, 1983
  6. ^ Woolley, John T.; Gerhard Peters (May 17, 1989). "George Bush: Remarks on Signing the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday Commission Extension Act". The American Presidency Project. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ Pub.L. 101–30, 103 Stat. 60, enacted May 17, 1989
  8. ^ a b Dewar, Helen (October 4, 1983). "Helms Stalls King's Day In Senate". The Washington Post. p. A01. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2011. 
  9. ^ Romero, Frances (January 18, 2010). "A Brief History Of Martin Luther King Jr. Day". Time. 
  10. ^ Courtwright, David T. (2010). No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-674-04677-3. 
  11. ^ Ye Hee Lee, Michelle (January 15, 2012). "Recalling Arizona's struggle for MLK holiday". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c "". Retrieved February 5, 2013. 
  13. ^ Reingold, Beth (2000). Representing Women: Sex, Gender, and Legislative Behavior in Arizona and California. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 66–. ISBN 9780807848500. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Gilbreth, Donna (1997). "Rise and Fall of Fast Day". New Hampshire State Library. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  15. ^ Goldberg, Carey (May 26, 1999). "Contrarian New Hampshire To Honor Dr. King, at Last". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  16. ^ The History of Martin Luther King Day, Infoplease
  17. ^ Cody, Karen James (January 9, 2007). "More Employers Plan to Observe Martin Luther King Day". Bureau of National Affairs. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c Petrie, Phil W. (May–June 2000). "The MLK holiday: Branches work to make it work". The New Crisis. Retrieved November 12, 2008. 
  19. ^ "S.B. 121 Bill Documents - 2000 General Session". Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  20. ^ Duran, April (April 10, 2000). "Virginia creates holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.". On The Lege (Virginia Commonwealth University). Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Mississippi State Code, §3.3.7: Legal Holidays". Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  22. ^ "1-301. Holidays enumerated". Arizona Legislature. 
  23. ^ "CHAPTER 288 HOLIDAYS". New Hampshire General Court. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service". Global Citizen. 
  26. ^ Moore, Doug (January 16, 2011). "MLK events in Missouri form man’s legacy". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. 
  27. ^ 広島市ホームページリニューアルのお知らせ
  28. ^ Miller, David (2008). "City of Toronto Proclamation". City of Toronto. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. 
  29. ^ The Jewish Week & The American Examiner, pg 37, February 3, 1986.
  30. ^ Library of Congress Veterans History Project Oral History, Arnold Resnicoff, May 2010.

External links[edit]