Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964
Official name Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Observed by United States
Type National
Date The third Monday in January
2010 date January 18
2011 date January 17

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a United States Federal holiday marking the birthdate of Rev. Dr. 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. King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. He was assassinated in 1968.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. 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.



The idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations.[1] After King's death, U.S. Representative John Conyers (the Democrat from Michigan) 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.[2] 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).[2] 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."[1]

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.[3][4] 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 was made a member of this commission for life by President George H. W. Bush in May 1989.[5][6]

Reluctance to observe

Senator Jesse Helms (Republican of North Carolina) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. He also criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism".[7]

Ronald Reagan was also opposed to the holiday, citing cost concerns.[7] He threatened to veto the King Day bill but relented after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate).[8]

Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham's rescission of the state holiday in honor of King created by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable, McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize the holiday despite opposition from Mecham.[9]

In 1990, Arizonans were given the opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday.[10] Prior to that date, New Hampshire and Arizona had not observed the day. Throughout the 1990s, this was heavily criticized. Following the failure of the 1990 proposition to recognize the holiday in Arizona, the National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.[11] The hip-hop group Public Enemy recorded a song titled "By The Time I Get To Arizona", on their 1991 album Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, in which they describe assassinating the then Governor of Arizona Fife Symington III for his opposition to the holiday.

In 1991, the New Hampshire legislature created "Civil Rights Day" and abolished "Fast Day".[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

There have also been voices supportive of King who argue that the national observance of his birthday actually domesticates his message.[15] They suggest that honoring him enables the American people to forget how subversive King really was.[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 amongst 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.

Alternative names

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 the year 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.[18][20] 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, a Martin Luther King Day was established in Virginia.[21] Mississippi shares this co-celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and Robert E. Lee's birthday on the third Monday of January.[22] In Arizona Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is known as "Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day"[23], while in New Hampshire, its official name is "Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day".[24]

King Day of Service

The national Martin Luther King Day of Service 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, the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service[25] has been the largest event in the nation honoring Dr. King.[26]

Outside the US

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][28]


  1. ^ a b "Working-Class Hero", William P. Jones, The Nation, January 5, 2006
  2. ^ a b Wolfensberger, Don. "The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday: The Long Struggle in Congress, An Introductory Essay", Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2008-01-14).
  3. ^ "Ronald Reagan: Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday". The American Presidency Project. 1983-11-02. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  4. ^ Pub.L. 98-399, 98 Stat. 1475, enacted November 2, 1983
  5. ^ "George Bush: Remarks on Signing the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday Commission Extension Act". The American Presidency Project. 1989-05-17. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  6. ^ Pub.L. 101-30, 103 Stat. 60, enacted May 17, 1989
  7. ^ a b Dewar, Helen (October 4, 1983). "Helms Stalls King's Day In Senate". Washington Post: p. A01. 
  8. ^ Righting Reagan's Wrongs
  9. ^ Tapper, Jake. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day", ABC News (2008-04-03)
  10. ^ A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a legal public holiday, Library of Congress.
  11. ^ Passing the King holiday in Arizona - proposal to celebrate Martin Luther King Day -
  12. ^ [1], New Hampshire Almanac >Fast Day,
  13. ^ [2], New York Times, Carey Goldberg, May 26, 1999
  14. ^ Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday
  15. ^ cf. Vincent Harding's article in Jim Wallis & Joyce Holliday's Cloud of Witnesses (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 81-89.
  16. ^
  17. ^ BNA - More Employers Plan to Observe Martin Luther King Day
  18. ^ a b c Petrie, Phil W. (May-June 2000). "The MLK holiday: Branches work to make it work". The New Crisis.;col1. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  19. ^ S.B. 121 Bill Documents - 2000 General Session
  20. ^ Dorsey, Brandon D.. "Lee-Jackson Day is a Lexington, Va. tradition and an event to experience". Shenandoah Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  21. ^ Duran, April (2000-04-10). "Virginia creates holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.". On the Lege. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  22. ^ "Mississippi State Code, §3.3.7: Legal Holidays". Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  23. ^ Format Document
  25. ^
  26. ^ Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service
  27. ^
  28. ^

Simple English

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a US Federal Holiday. It commemorates civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. It is celebrated on the third Monday in January and is one of only four United States Federal holidays to honor an individual person.[1]


  1. The other three federal holidays honoring individuals are Washington's Birthday (which is usually called called President's Day), Columbus Day, and Christmas. Most people working in banks and other government owned places get the day off. Many students get a day off from school on this day. See 5 USC 6103.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address