Martin Luther King Jr. Day: The Origins

"Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd.) - NARA - 542015" by Rowland Scherman - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -,_D.C._(Dr._Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Mathew_Ahmann_in_a_crowd.)_-_NARA_-_542015.tif#/media/File:Civil_Rights_March_on_Washington,_D.C._(Dr._Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Mathew_Ahmann_in_a_crowd.)_-_NARA_-_542015.tif
Martin Luther King Jr. and others during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. (Image by Rowland Scherman/National Archives via Wikimedia Commons)


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States.

Here are some things you may not have known about the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

The idea of a holiday honoring King began shortly after he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the early days, the holiday was negotiated by unions during contract negotiations. The first bill to make King’s birthday a federal holiday came in 1979, but fell five votes short of passage. In 1981, six million signatures were gathered in an effort to petition Congress to create the holiday. In 1983, a new bill was introduced and passed the House of Representatives with a large majority. The bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 2, 1983. The holiday came into effect for the first time in 1986.

Federal holidays mean U.S. Government workers get a paid day off of work. They have no bearing on other levels of government or private business, although many choose to observe the holidays.

Several states delayed or resisted efforts to create the holiday or called it by another name. In 1990, voters in Arizona rejected two measures that would have created a King holiday. In response, the National Football League moved the 1993 Super Bowl from a suburb of Phoenix to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. In 1992, voters in Arizona approved a measure creating the holiday, and the NFL awarded the 1996 Super Bowl to Tempe, Arizona.

Utah was the last state to name the holiday after King when it changed “Human Rights Day” to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2000. Also in 2000, South Carolina made the holiday official for all state employees. Before they were allowed to celebrate King’s birthday or three other Confederate holidays.

Three states combine King’s birthday with that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee: Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Our question: What is the earliest day of the year Martin Luther King Jr. Day can be observed?

Today is Royal Thai Armed Forces Day in Thailand and Revolution Day in Tunisia. It’s unofficially Elementary School Teacher Day, National Gourmet Coffee Day and National Peking Duck Day. It’s the birthday of writer A.A. Milne, actor Cary Grant and actor Kevin Costner.

10 years ago in 2006, the top song in the U.S. was “Laffy Taffy” by D4L; the No. 1 movie was “Glory Road,” while “S is for Silence” by Sue Grafton topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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