How did Martin Luther King Jr. come about? He was born on January 15th, why do we celebrate it when we do by doing and by volunteering?

The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968–4 days after his assassination to be exact, when John Conyers introduced his first bill to demand that MLK’s life and work be commemorated.  Read the King Center chronology about the making of the holiday, a struggle that took 15 years, brought us Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday, and brought us a day for volunteering and civic action.  It was conceived as “a day on, not a day off” from early on in the conception according to the chronology.

Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating a federal holiday on the third Monday of January, November 3rd, 1983 and, on January 20th 1986, the first national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was observed. However, the states took considerably longer to commemorate the day–Connecticut and Massachussetts were the first states (before the federal bill was signed), and Arizona, New Hampshire, Utah, Virginia and South Carolina were among the last. Some states continue to celebrate Robert E. Lee and King on the same day, and a Utah legislator wanted to celebrate a local gunmaker, John Browning, on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The last state to commemorate MLK Day was New Hampshire. 

There is so much to do in the fight for civil rights, for equality, for justice–and the fight for the day illustrates this.