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Megan Moroney

History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day


UNITED STATES – “I Have a Dream.” Being one of the most renowned phrases in American history representing the dream of African American men and women, it was once said by a man named Martin Luther King Jr. from Atlanta, Georgia. Largely viewed as the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, the United States now honors King on the third Monday of each January.

Today marks the 44th year since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first recognized in the state of Illinois; however, it would take quite some time before Martin Luther King Jr. Day would become a national holiday.

After the horrifying assassination of King in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1967, Americans had a desire commemorate King for his work within the civil rights movement. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan first introduced legislation to Congress four short days after the assassination. Nevertheless, Congress stalled the bill causing numerous petitions containing over six million names of people endorsing the holiday.

New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm joined the fight with Conyers by working to resubmit the bill as legislation. Congress still refused to pass the bill, igniting public pressure demonstrated in the 1982 and 1983 Civil Rights Marches in Washington, D.C. Finally, Congress passed the legislation in 1983, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. The federal holiday went in effect in January 1986.

Many states were reluctant to celebrate the day, citing that King did not deserve his own holiday. Instead, certain states recognized the day as Civil Rights Day to highlight the entire civil rights movement.

In one specific case, Arizona Governor Evan Mecham refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday as his first act in office in 1987; this act set off a boycott throughout the state. This issue even caused the Super Bowl XXVII to be moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Pasadena, California.

It took almost 15 years from the signing of the bill for the holiday to be held in all fifty states. Today, all states recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday and observe it on the third Monday of January.

King’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement will forever be remembered because of his peaceful demeanor and character. One would only hope that if King were here today he could evidently see his “dream” coming true.

Caitlyn McTier for | © 2017, City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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