The celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on the third Monday in January honors the legacy of Dr. King, focuses attention on civil rights, highlights the use of nonviolence to promote change, and calls people into public service. It wasn’t an easy path creating the first federal holiday for the birth of a private citizen.
Four days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination Representative John Conyers introduced the first motion in Congress to Make Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday.
Conyers continued to introduce his bill year after year for the next fifteen years. In 1979 the bill falls only five votes short of passing.
Stevie Wonder released the song “Happy Birthday” to promote the holiday and it becomes a rallying cry.
Six million signatures on a petition in support of a federal holiday honoring Dr. King are presented to House Speaker Tip O’Neill by Coretta Scott King.
The 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s seminal “I have a Dream” speech, and the 15th anniversary of his murder proved too strong for the last ditch filibuster against the holiday. The House of Representatives passes the King Holiday Bill, 338-90 and the Senate passes the bill, 78-22.
November 2, 1983
President Ronald Reagan signs the bill into law making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of January.
The first official celebration of the holiday.
It wasn’t until 2000 that every state in the Union finally observed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.