Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Each year on the third Monday of January we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day and reflect on the work that still needs to be done for racial equality. This January 16, make the holiday more than just a day off and take time to reflect and take action on civil rights issues across the globe.
HISTORY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
The concept of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions. After King’s death, U.S. Representative John Conyers and U.S. Senator Edward Brooke 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. 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, as King never held public office. At the time, only two other figures had national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
Soon after, the King Center looked for 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 for Congress to pass the law and is considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.
President Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall, to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill had passed the Senate by a count of 78 to 22, and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. It’s observed on the third Monday of January rather than directly on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday because it follows the guidelines of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
HOW TO OBSERVE MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
1.Learn MLK’s full history and narrative
Take the time to learn more about MLK in depth. Read his works as well as those of his family to learn more about this remarkable man and the stories as he told them.
2.Support the Black community and racial justice
Make Martin Luther King Jr. Day more than just a day off. Take time to both understand and support civil rights and the issues facing communities of color. MLK and his contemporaries did a lot for the advancement of civil rights, but there is still much to be done.
3.Have a conversation
Creating dialogue and having discussions about racial injustice is important. Through conversation we educate each other, share experiences, and work to create a brighter future.
5 LESSER-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
1.His birth name was Michael
The civil rights leader was given the name Michael King Jr at birth — later, his father changed his own name as well as of his son to Martin Luther, after the Protestant Reformation leader.
2.King started college at the age of 15
King skipped grades 9 and 12 and enrolled at Morehouse College in 1944.
3.‘I Have a Dream’ was not his first speech
Six years before his iconic speech at Lincoln Memorial, King spoke during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.
4.King was imprisoned a lot
According to the King Center, Martin Luther King, Jr. went to jail 29 times.
5.His last public speech foreshadowed his death
In his last speech the night before he was assassinated, King said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now, I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
WHY MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY IS IMPORTANT
A. He worked to advance civil rights
The words, leadership, time, and energy King devoted to civil rights helped end segregation in the United States and worked to eliminate unfair practices throughout the nation that negatively affected the Black community. He helped organize rallies, gave speeches across the country, and mobilized thousands of people to help end racial injustice.
B. He inspires us
MLK inspired millions of people in his lifetime and continues to inspire us to this day. Across the globe, activists look to King for inspiration and courage. Modern movements for racial equality and justice are extensions of the work that he started.
C. He promoted civil disobedience
King’s tactics and manner of protest were largely that of civil disobedience, including sit-ins, marches, and disregard for unjust laws. Many of us follow his example today when protesting and adopt the tactic of civil disobedience.
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