Share this content!

Many people are unaware that designating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday was a difficult undertaking. It didn’t happen overnight. It took 32 years of campaigning and advocacy to get to this point.

It wasn’t until 1983 that all 50 states in the US proclaimed it a holiday, to be observed starting in the year 2000. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is commemorated as a state government holiday every year on the third Monday in January. Despite the fact that his official birthday is January 15th, this is how he is remembered.

History of Declaring Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday a Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday proved difficult to persuade Congress to declare a national holiday. His supporters had to work hard and organize various efforts to make it happen. There were also some disagreements about whether it should be declared a federal holiday.

Martin Luther King Jr. was founded by John Conyers, who was the main force behind it. It was a day in 1968. This happened shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It took another 11 years for the House of Representatives to start voting, with the first official session taking place in 1979. The bill, however, failed due to five representatives voting against it during the voting process. It fell short of the requisite two-thirds majority with a vote count of 252-133.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s supporters and believers of his initiatives were unfazed by this. The initiative was also supported by celebrities and singers. In 1981, Stevie Wonder recorded the popular song “Happy Birthday,” which commemorates Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

A march in Washington, D.C., attended by 500,000 people, was also staged by activists and supporters. Tip O’Neill was given a petition signed by 6 million individuals during the march.

Neill was the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time.

In response to the petition, which received 53 votes, the parliament held another voting session in 1983. Senators, on the other hand, were firm in their opposition to the declaration of the holiday. One of the opponents was North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Martin Luther King was accused of being a communist, and he provided a 400-page dossier claiming to prove it. Despite this, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 12. In November 1983, former President Ronald Reagan signed it.

For the first time in 1986, Martin Luther King’s birthday was named a federal holiday. However, it was not known by all states. Only 17 states participated in 1986, with the others rejecting the federal holiday, resulting in legislative conflicts.

The fight culminated in a voter referendum in Arizona in November 1990. In a public referendum, the campaign to impose the holiday was defeated, but it was eventually accepted two years later.

Purpose of Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is observed as a national holiday to recognize his contributions to society. His achievements include civil rights, nonviolence, and public service. The annual memorial recognizes and honors his struggle to achieve the principles that we now have.

Indeed, it was because of his advocacies that his birthday was made a federal holiday, causing so much international turmoil. On the other hand, activists and supporters persisted, and the holiday eventually earned international recognition.

After a long battle, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was made a federal holiday. Thanks to supporters and activists who fought hard in the past, we can now commemorate the King’s advocacies every year.