The History of Martin Luther King Day

Why we celebrate it.

On the third Monday of January every year people across the country celebrate the life of the great Martin Luther King Jr. Many know the story of the civil rights pioneers peaceful struggle against systematic racism. but what is not commonly discussed is the origin of the Holiday that celebrates his very name.

King, along with George Washington and Christopher Columbus are the only historical figures to have a nationwide holiday in the US, but it didn’t always exist. Four days after King was assassinated Congressman John Conyers introduced the first legislation opting for a holiday based in his honor. However, it would not be until the early eighties that on a national level this legislation would be passed. So what created the gap of time of trying to make it a holiday, and actually passing it as a holiday?

A few years pass after Conyers’ first attempt upset over the rejection of the legislation led to a petition in the spring of 1971, accumulating more than Three Million signatures in favor of King receiving a holiday. With Congress not taking action for the holiday, many states in response took it upon themselves to fight for a state-level holiday in honor of King. the first being in Illinois in 1973. Eventually Kings widow (Coretta Scott King) started a nation wide push for the establishment of the holiday. In February of 1979 Mrs. King testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee she urges Conyers (the original proposer of the legislation) to call a vote. But the bill would lose by 5 votes in the House of Representatives. This didn’t stop Mrs. King however, the next five years would see her working with the newly established King Center petitioning to representatives across the country for the creation of the holiday.

By the end of 1983, President Reagan signs a bill granting a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Finally ending a more than a decade long legislative battle to honor King National. In a way the fight for a holiday was a story all of its own. It’s not only important to inform a new generation of Americans that when it comes to progress, the job isn’t ever done. Whether it is treading new ground in civil rights, or honoring those before you who did people young and old should know that their footprint in history is shaped by their actions. It has opened the gate for the American public to recognize King for his contribution.