Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day refers to a national day of service and federal holiday named in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. King was most definitely one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights movement.

History (the Bill)

Four days after King was assassinated by James Earl Ray, on April 28, 1968, Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation of a King holiday.[1] Prior to the legislation the states Illinois, Massachusetts and Connecticut recognized King's birthday as a holiday.[1][2] However, no action was taken on the bill for three years.

In April, 1961,[1] the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King had lead from the organization's founding to his death, presented Congress with a petition bearing three million names.[2] Nonetheless, the holiday languished in Congress for eight years.

The movement was reinvigorated by the support of President Jimmy Carter and the testimony of Coretta Scott King before Congress; Scott-King encouraged Conyers to bring the bill to a vote. In November, 1979, the bill was defeated by five votes. Nonetheless, Scott-King continued to campaign for the bill. In 1982, she and Stevie Wonder, who in 1980 had released the song "Happy Birthday, which became a rallying cry for the campaign,[1] presented Congress with another petition - one containing six million signees.[2] In August, 1983, another bill sponsored by Representatives Katie Hall and Jack Kemp passed the House of Representatives, by a vote of 338-90.[1]

In the Senate, the bill faced opposition lead by Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East. Helms read "Martin Luther King Jr.: Political Activities and Associations" on October 3, 1983, and presented Congress with a three hundred page document detailing King's communist connections. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously threw the packet down and declared it to be "filth".[2] The Senate bill, sponsored by Ted Kennedy, passed by a 78-22 margin. However, the day before, District Judge John Lewis Smith had blocked potentially critical evidence by denying Helms's request to unseal FBI surveillance tapes of King that were due to remain sealed until 2027.[2] By the time the bill was passed, 27 states recognized the King Holiday. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law in November, 1983, and the holiday was first observed in January, 1986.[2]

Post Passing

Arizona's three Congressmen voted against the bill in 1983, and the state did not recognize the holiday until 1992; this position cost them Super Bowl XXVII - which was moved to Tampa Bay, Florida in protest by the NFL. The last state to recognize the bill was South Carolina - which did so 17 years after the bill's passing, in 2000.[2]

In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 The King Holiday: A Chronology (English). The King Center. Retrieved on 2009-01-28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 A Brief History of Martin Luther King Day (English). Time. Time, Inc.. Retrieved on 2009-01-28.
  3. Overview (English). the U.S. Government. Retrieved on 2009-01-28.