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Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK Jr Statue

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Taking a look back in to the past. 

Government holidays are something most of us look forward to. It’s an extra day off with your family; an extra day to accomplish things you couldn’t another day; an extra day to relax. Some holidays though are meant for remembrance. This month we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and remember the ethics he stood for and what he fought for.

 Martin Luther King Jr. was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement. During this time, he successfully and peacefully protested racial discrimination bringing change to both federal and state laws. He is most known for his “I have a dream speech” which impacted not just our country, but the world. Soon after his assassination in 1968 a campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began.

 U.S. Representative John Conyers and Senator Edward Brooke introduced the bill to congress requesting that a national holiday for King fall on his birthday. It first came to vote in 1979 in the U.S. House of Representatives and It fell short from passing by five votes. The two main reasons it didn’t come to pass was the arguments that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive and that honoring a private citizen (Martin Luther King Jr never held office) with a federal holiday was contrary to longstanding U.S. tradition.

 After its failure to pass, the King Center turned to gain support from the general public and corporate community. Even Stevie Wonder joined forces to popularize the campaign in 1980 by releasing the single “Happy Birthday” and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for the petition to Congress to pass the law. On November 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the second bill to be presented to the House of Representatives requesting that Kings birthday be observed as a federal holiday. The bill passed with a count of 338 to 90, a veto-proof margin, and was first celebrated on January 20,1986.

Not all states chose to observe the holiday at the state level. In 1991 New Hampshire joined but chose to call it “Civil Rights Day” instead and are not the only state to alter the name of the holiday:


Robert E Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday


Martin Luther King Jr/Civil Rights Day


Martin Luther King Jr/Idaho Human Rights Day


Martin Luther King’s and Robert E Lee’s Birthday

New Hampshire

Martin Luther King Jr Civil Rights Day


Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday and Robert E Lee’s Birthday- from 1985-2017

*after 2017 the name of the state holiday changed to Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday


 In 2000, Utah became the last state to name the holiday after King with South Carolina being the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday.

Outside of the U.S. there is a surprising number of others who also celebrate and remember Martin Luther and his ethics. The city of Toronto in Ontario Canada recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but it is not a paid holiday and all government services and businesses remain open. Under Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba in Hiroshima, Japan they observe the holiday by throwing a special banquet at the Mayor’s office as an act of unifying his city’s call for peace with King’s message of human rights.

Every year since 1986 Wassenaar, Netherlands hosts a Tribute and Dinner which include veterans from the civil rights movement, young people and musicians from all over. The tribute is always held on the last Sunday in January and bridges King’s birthday and Black History Month. The night always ends with everyone holding hands and singing in a circle “We Shall Overcome”.

In 1984, before even the U.S. celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day for the first time, Navy Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, held in Jerusalem at the President’s residence. It is said they were especially proud to host this special event because Israel had a national forest named in honor of King and that both Israel and King shared the ideas of “dreams” and that “There have been those who thought they could kill the dream by slaying the dreamer, but- as the example of King’s life shows-such people are always wrong”.

Whether near or far it seems that Martin Luther King Jr left an impression on us all. With his peaceful methods and unwavering mental strength, we can all take note from King and try to solve our issues without violence and use words and compassion instead. Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day!


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