The history of Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Photo by White House Photo Office used under Creative Commons license

40th President, Ronald Regan, signs the bill commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday on Nov. 2, 1983 in the White House Garden.

Logan Larrick, Website Editor

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist who wanted equality between white Americans and African Americans. He is well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech and the March On Washington. A bigger reason King is honored and well known is that his statements, though were very controversial, were never put in a violent way. He was a leader on the peaceful push towards equality and that had positive and negative consequences. The good news was that he got well known, but the bad news was that some did not agree with King. That caused him to be murdered on April 4, 1968. But King’s legacy was not going to just end there. Some wanted to honor him. So Martin Luther King, Jr Day was created. But it did not simply just become a holiday in one day. It has a story of it’s own.

The struggle for this holiday started on April 4, 1968, the date Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and news broadcasters from all around covered his horrific death. Just four days after his assassination, African American Congressman, John Conyer, took the floor of Congress to insist making a federal holiday for King. Year after year of attempts to make Congress agree to instate the holiday proved to be unsuccessful until Conyer got followers of his cause and created the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC. The CBC was first made to help make Martin Luther King Day a holiday but now it has a mission to increase the number of African Americans in Congress. For 15 years, Conyer and the CBC tried countlessly the get the holiday approved with no progress until 1983, the year of the 20th anniversary of the March On Washington and the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The bill was finally passed by Congress and signed by president Ronald Reagan on Nov. 2, 1983, to make Martin Luther King Day an official federal holiday. This was the first federal holiday of which to honor an African American.

Although the holiday took effect in 1986, it was not until 2000 that the holiday was celebrated in all 50 states. Through much struggle and years of attempts, Martin Luther King Day became a federal holiday and was put to be observed on the third Monday in January, to honor King’s birthday on January 15.