Martin Luther King Day
The third Monday in January is when we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, it's on January 15, the exact date of his birth in 1929.
- born in Atlanta
- Morehouse College
- Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania
- Boston University, Ph.D. in theology in 1955
- pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery
- was selected to head the bus boycott effort in Montgomery in the wake of Rosa Parks' defiance
- 1957, formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- 1960, returned to Atlanta to become copastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church
- arrested and jailed for protesting segregation at a lunch counter (presidential candidate Kennedy interceded to obtain his release)
- 1963, helped organize the March on Washington (“I have a dream” speech)
- 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace
- 1965, was criticized from within the civil-rights movement for yielding to state troopers at a march in Selma and for failing in the effort to change Chicago's housing segregation policies
- began advocating for the poor and opposing the Vietnam War
- 1968, went to Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers
- April 4, assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine motel
Rep. John Conyers introduced a bill to make King's birthday a federal holiday and b/c of King's activism on behalf of trade unionists, they promoted the holiday. In 1976, unionists helped elect Jimmy Carter, who supported the bill.
But momentum for its passage waned until Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. An unparalleled six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law.
Senator Jesse Helms and President Reagan opposed the bill b/c King was unimportant (!), opposed to the Vietnam War and had ties to communism.
Congress passed the bill in numbers that prevented a presidential veto. Then, Reagan changed his tune, endorsed the holiday and signed it into law in 1983. MLK Day was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, but not in all 50 states until 2000.
In Utah, the day is called Human Rights Day; in Arizona and New Hampshire, Civil Rights Day.