A look at Dr, King, Jr. An the holiday in witch to honor his life.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15. King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. He was assassinated by a prison escapee in 1968 on the balcony of a hotel as he went to get some fresh air before making a speech.
The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor began soon after his assassination. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. The idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations. After King's death, United States Representative John Conyers (a Democrat from Michigan) introduced a bill in Congress to make King's birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979. However, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage. Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive, and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition (King had never held public office). Soon after, the King Center turned to support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as "the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history."
Ronald Reagan and Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day signing ceremony
At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a federal holiday to honor King. It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.
The bill established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to oversee observance of the holiday, and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife, was made a member of this commission for life by President George H. W. Bush in May 1989. However some people were reluctance to observe like Senator Jesse Helms (Republican of North Carolina) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. He also criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism".
President Ronald Reagan was also at first opposed to the holiday, citing cost concerns. He signed the measure only after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate). Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham's rescission of the state holiday in honor of King created by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable, McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize the holiday despite opposition from Mecham.
Former Gov, Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created the holiday by executive order just before he left office in 1986; but Mecham, armed with an attorney general's opinion that Babbitt's order was illegal, rescinded it days after he took office. Mecham subsequently issued his own executive order, setting aside the third Sunday in January as an unpaid holiday to honor King, but it never was recognized by supporters of a paid holiday. Mecham was impeached and removed from office for unrelated actions in 1988.
In 1990, Arizonans were given the opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday. Prior to that date, New Hampshire and Arizona had not observed the day. Throughout the 1990s, this was heavily criticized. Following the failure of the 1990 proposition to recognize the holiday in Arizona, the National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The hip-hop group Public Enemy recorded a song titled "By The Time I Get To Arizona", on their 1991 album Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, in which they describe assassinating the then Governor of Arizona Fife Symington III for his opposition to the holiday.
In 1991, the New Hampshire legislature created "Civil Rights Day" and abolished "Fast Day". In 1999, "Civil Rights Day" was officially changed to "Martin Luther King Day," becoming the last state to have a holiday named after Dr. King.
On May 2, 2000, South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday an official state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees. Prior to this, employees could choose between celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate holidays.
There have also been voices supportive of King who argue that the national observance of his birthday actually domesticates his message. They suggest that honoring him enables the American people to forget how subversive King really was. Overall, in 2007, 33% of employers gave employees the day off, a 2% increase over the previous year. There was little difference in observance by large and small employers: 33% for firms with over 1,000 employees; and, 32% for firms with under 1,000 employees. The observance is most popular amongst nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers. The reasons for this have varied, ranging from the recent addition of the holiday, to its occurrence just two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when many businesses are closed for part or sometimes all of the week. Additionally, many schools and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but may hold seminars or celebrations of King's message. Some factories and manufacturers used MLK Day as a floating or movable holiday.
While all states now observe the holiday, some did not name the day after King. In Utah, the holiday was known as "Human Rights Day" until the year 2000, when the Utah State Legislature voted to change the name of the holiday from Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In that same year Governor Michael O. Leavitt signed the bill officially naming the holiday "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day."
In Virginia, it was known as Lee-Jackson-King Day. The incongruous nature of the holiday, which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate Army generals and a civil rights icon, did not escape the notice of Virginia lawmakers. In 2000, a Martin Luther King Day was established in Virginia. However, Mississippi still shares this co-celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and Robert E. Lee's birthday on the third Monday of January. In Arizona Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is known as "Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day", while in New Hampshire, its official name is "Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day". On January 17, 2011 we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the holiday recognizing one of America's greatest heroes-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.