A look back at 15 years of struggle for the federal holiday

Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal holiday that honors the life and legacy of the American civil rights icon who was assassinated in 1968.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But the vacation did not go seamlessly. The efforts of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, lawmakers, activists and others took years.

Here’s what you need to know about how Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday.

When was Martin Luther King Jr. Day first celebrated?

The first national holiday in honor of the king was celebrated in 1986.

But it took longer than that for states across the country to embrace the holiday, including fights in Arizona, South Carolina and elsewhere, according to the National Constitution Center. The holiday has been recognized in every state since 2000.

How did Martin Luther King Jr. Day become a public holiday?

Former U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., has introduced a bill to create a federal holiday to honor King the April 8, 1968just four days after the assassination of the civil rights leader.

  • Over the next decade, support for the holiday would grow across the country, and several states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, would adopt statewide holidays in King’s honor.

Conyers has spent years reintroducing federal legislation, with support from lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus. And in 1979on what would have been King’s 50th birthday, the bill was introduced in the House, but it failed by 5 votes.

  • The fight to create the party didn’t stop at close voting, with Coretta Scott King and others campaigning for the party and rallying the public.
  • King will testify several times before Congress. She and singer Stevie Wonder, who released his song “Happy Birthday” to support the enactment of the holiday, launched a petition in support of the holiday with more than 6 million signatures in 1982.

The House finally approved the vacation in 1983, and although the drive to create the commemoration met with some opposition in the Senate, former President Ronald Reagan signed it into law later that year.

Why is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January?

The party recognizes King’s birthday, January 15.

But Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law in 1968. It originally designated that three federal holidays, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the birthday of former President George Washington, would be marked on Monday.

So even though King’s birthday is on Sunday, it is commemorated on Monday like other holidays under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Contributors: Kristin Lam, Joshua Bote and Mary Bowerman; USA TODAY

USA Today

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