Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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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
2015 date January 19  (2015-01-19)
2016 date January 18  (2016-01-18)
2017 date January 16  (2017-01-16)
2018 date January 15  (2018-01-15)
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 King's birthday, January 15. The 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.

This article is part of a series about
Martin Luther King Jr.


Death and memorial

Martin Luther King Jr Signature2.svg


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, U.S. Representative John Conyers (a Democrat from Michigan) and U.S. 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 figures have national holidays in the U.S. 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.

Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the holiday 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".[4] 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.[5][6]

President Ronald Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. When asked to comment on Helms' accusations that King was a communist, the president said "We'll know in thirty-five years, won't we?", in reference to the eventual release of FBI surveillance tapes that had previously been sealed.[7] But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, to create a federal holiday honoring Dr. King.[8][9] The bill had passed the House of Representatives by a count of 338 to 90, a veto-proof margin.[4] The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.

The bill also established the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to oversee observance of the holiday, and Coretta Scott King, King's wife, was made a member of this commission for life by President George H. W. Bush in May 1989.[10][11]

State-level passage[edit]

Although the federal holiday honoring King was signed into law in 1983 and took effect three years later, not every U.S. state chose to observe the holiday at the state level until 1991, when the New Hampshire legislature created "Civil Rights Day" and abolished "Fast Day".[12] In 2000, Utah became the last state to have a holiday named after Dr. King when "Human Rights Day" was officially changed to "Martin Luther King Jr. Day."[13]

In 1986, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created a paid state MLK holiday in Arizona by executive order just before he left office, but in 1987, his Republican successor Evan Mecham, citing an attorney general's opinion that Babbitt's order was illegal, reversed Babbitt's decision days after taking office.[14] Later that year, Mecham proclaimed the third Sunday in January to be "Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day" in Arizona, albeit as an unpaid holiday.[15] In 1990, Arizona voters were given the opportunity to vote on giving state employees a paid MLK holiday. That same year, the National Football League threatened to move Super Bowl XXVII, which was planned for Arizona in 1993, if the MLK holiday was voted down.[16] In the November election, the voters were offered two King Day options: Proposition 301, which replaced Columbus Day on the list of paid state holidays, and Proposition 302, which merged Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays into one paid holiday to make room for MLK Day. Both measures failed to pass, with only 49% of voters approving Prop 302, the more popular of the two options; although some who voted "no" on 302 voted "yes" on Prop 301.[17] Consequently, the state lost the chance to host Super Bowl XXVII, which was subsequently held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.[16] In a 1992 referendum, the voters, this time given only one option for a paid King Day, approved state-level recognition of the holiday.[18]

On May 2, 2000, South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make King'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 Jr. Day or one of three Confederate holidays.[19]

Alternative names[edit]

While all states now observe the holiday, some did not name the day after King. For example, in New Hampshire, the holiday was known as "Civil Rights Day" until 1999, when the State Legislature voted to change the name of the holiday to Martin Luther King Day.[20]

Several additional states have chosen to combine commemorations of King's birthday with other observances:

Workplace observance[edit]

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.[28] 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.

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.
A Martin Luther King Day march in Oregon

The national Martin Luther King Day of Service[29] 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,[30] the largest event in the nation honoring Dr. King.[31]

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.

The only other official national day of service in the USA, as designated by the government, is September 11 National Day of Service (9/11 Day).

Outside the United States[edit]

One place outside the U.S. 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.[32]

The city of Toronto, Canada, is another city that has officially recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day, although not as a paid holiday: all government services and businesses remain open.[33]

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".[34] 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.[35]



Year Martin Luther King Jr. Day
1986 2014 2042 2070 2098 January 20
1987 2015 2043 2071 2099 January 19
1988 2016 2044 2072 2100 January 18
1989 2017 2045 2073 January 16
1990 2018 2046 2074 January 15
1991 2019 2047 2075 January 21
1992 2020 2048 2076 January 20
1993 2021 2049 2077 January 18
1994 2022 2050 2078 January 17
1995 2023 2051 2079 January 16
1996 2024 2052 2080 January 15
1997 2025 2053 2081 January 20
1998 2026 2054 2082 January 19
1999 2027 2055 2083 January 18
2000 2028 2056 2084 January 17
2001 2029 2057 2085 January 15
2002 2030 2058 2086 January 21
2003 2031 2059 2087 January 20
2004 2032 2060 2088 January 19
2005 2033 2061 2089 January 17
2006 2034 2062 2090 January 16
2007 2035 2063 2091 January 15
2008 2036 2064 2092 January 21
2009 2037 2065 2093 January 19
2010 2038 2066 2094 January 18
2011 2039 2067 2095 January 17
2012 2040 2068 2096 January 16
2013 2041 2069 2097 January 21

See Also[edit]

Other holidays honoring African Americans[edit]

Other civil rights holidays[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  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 (PDF) on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 16, 2011. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Romero, Frances (January 18, 2010). "A Brief History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day". Time. 
  6. ^ Courtwright, David T. (2010). No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-674-04677-3. 
  7. ^ Younge, Gary (September 2–9, 2013). "The Misremembering of 'I Have a Dream'". The Nation. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Pub.L. 98–399, 98 Stat. 1475, enacted November 2, 1983
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Pub.L. 101–30, 103 Stat. 60, enacted May 17, 1989
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ a b Petrie, Phil W. (May–June 2000). "The MLK holiday: Branches work to make it work". The New Crisis. Retrieved November 12, 2008. 
  14. ^ Ye Hee Lee, Michelle (January 15, 2012). "Recalling Arizona's struggle for MLK holiday". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Civil Rights Day in United States". Time and Date AS. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  16. ^ a b "". Retrieved February 5, 2013. 
  17. ^ Shumway, Jim (November 26, 1990). "STATE OF ARIZONA OFFICIAL CANVASS – GENERAL ELECTION – November 6, 1990" (PDF). Arizona Secretary of State ~ Home Page. Arizona Secretary of State. p. 12. Retrieved April 11, 2015. 
  18. ^ Reingold, Beth (2000). Representing Women: Sex, Gender, and Legislative Behavior in Arizona and California. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 66–. ISBN 9780807848500. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  19. ^ The History of Martin Luther King Day, Infoplease
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ "Calendar". 
  22. ^ "1–301. Holidays enumerated". Arizona Legislature. 
  23. ^ "State Holidays Calendar". 
  24. ^ "TItle 73". 
  25. ^ "State Holidays". 
  26. ^ "CHAPTER 288 HOLIDAYS". New Hampshire General Court. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ "MLK Day – 1.18.2016". Corporation for National and Community Service. 
  30. ^ "Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service". Global Citizen. 
  31. ^ 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. 
  32. ^ 広島市ホームページリニューアルのお知らせ
  33. ^ Miller, David (2008). "City of Toronto Proclamation". City of Toronto. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. 
  34. ^ The Jewish Week & The American Examiner, pg 37, February 3, 1986.
  35. ^ Library of Congress Veterans History Project Oral History, Arnold Resnicoff, May 2010.

External links[edit]