Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - Saturday, January 20, 2024

Federal Historical

What is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?

Each year on the third Monday of January we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and reflect on the work that still needs to be done for racial equality. This January 20, make the holiday more than just a day off and take time to reflect and take action on civil rights issues across the globe.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day History

The concept of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions. After King’s death, US representative John Conyers and US Senator Edward Brooke introduced a bill in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the US 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, as King never held public office. At the time, only two other figures had national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
Soon after, the King Center looked for 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 for Congress to pass the law, and is considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in US history.
President Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall, to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill had passed the Senate by a count of 78 to 22, and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. It’s observed on the third Monday of January rather than directly on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday because it follows the guidelines of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Martin Luther King Jr is known as one of the most inspirational people in United States history because of his efforts to bring civil and equal rights for minorities to the law. Although many have heard his story, his impact of the world is significant enough that a holiday was created to keep reminding people that his values are what makes civil rights movements important even today.

History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which takes place on the official birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., which acknowledges King efforts in nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement.  Hi movements throughout his time were popular and successful, allowing people to start protesting racial discrimination in federal and state law. When King got assassinated in 1968, people started campaigning for a holiday to commemorate King for his efforts in civil nonviolent protest. Years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later.

While originally when the holiday became official, some states took longer to adjust to the holiday and tried to combine it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. Since then, schools, public museums, nonprofit organizations and federal building observe this holiday as a beginning to civil rights movements, and served as a gateway for movements such as the social justice movements in the United States. Many learn about the history of Martin Luther King Jr, his speeches, his background, and the people he inspired.

How to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

If you want to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr, the visit a museam dedicated to civil rights movements and take the time to see history as it went when a man dediced to change everything. You can also visit informative webites online that dedicate their pages to Martin Luther King Jr and listen to his speeches. Share this holiday on your favorite social media website using the hashtag #martinlutherkingjrday and let everyone know how important this day is to you.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day timeline



Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed by all 50 states for the first time. Prior to this, some states resisted observing the holiday, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. 


The first day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed for the very first time.


Stevie Wonder calls for action 

Stevie Wonder released "Happy Birthday," a song in which he not only celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, but also lamenting the fact that anyone would oppose the idea of a Dr. King holiday: "I just never understood, how a man who died for good, could not have a day that would, be set aside for his recognition."

January 15, 1929

Birth of a King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Ga

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day FAQs

Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday?

Not only is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday, but it is also the first holiday honoring an African American.

Why is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day known as a day of service?

Days of Service help to raise awareness, mobilize volunteers, and provide individuals with an opportunity to engage and build new connections, and help nonprofits find support for their programs. MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

What happened on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrates Dr. King’s life and achievements as an influential American civil rights leader. The holiday is set on the Monday nearest his birthday.

MLK Day Stats

6,000,000 Signatures
Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. A petition only needs 150 signatures in order to be searchable within the White House database. To cross the second threshold and require a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days. Stevie Wonder helped to achieve this feat by releasing his iconic single “Happy Birthday”, raising awareness to the fact that there should be a day commemorating Dr. King’s life and questioning why people in power would be opposed to celebrating someone fighting for peace and justice.
250,000 March on Washington
During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The demonstration was attended by more than 250,000 people. Though many people are familiar with the famous speech, very few know that the iconic “I have a dream” portion was entirely improvised. If you watch the video of King giving the speech, you’ll notice for the first 2-3 minutes, he’s reading the speech prepared for him. But at some point, King pauses. Within this pause, gospel singer and King’s good friend, Mahalia Jackson, yells out, “Tell’em about the dream!” At this moment, Reverend King took his crowd to church, as he preached to a diverse crowd of supporters his dream for a better and non violent future.
25,000 March from Selma
The Selma March, also referred to as the Selma to Montgomery March, was a political march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, occurring from March 21 to the 25 in 1965. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the march was the culminating event of several emotional weeks during which demonstrators twice attempted to march but were stopped, once violently, by local police. 25,000 people participated in the roughly 50 mile march. These events became a landmark in the American cilvil rights movements and directly led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

How to Observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

  1. Learn MLK’s full history and narrative

    Take the time to learn more about MLK in depth. Read his works as well as those of his family to learn more about this remarkable man and learn the stories as he told them. 

  2. Support the black community and racial justice

    Make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day more than just a day off. Take time to both understand and support civil rights and the issues facing communities of color. MLK and his contemporaries did a lot for the advancement of civil rights, but there is still much to be done.

  3. Have a conversation

    Creating dialogue and having discussions about racial injustice is important. Through conversation, we educate each other, share experiences, and work to create a brighter future.

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is Important

  1. He worked to advance civil rights

    The words, leadership, time, and energy King devoted to civil rights helped end segregation in the United States and worked to eliminate unfair practices throughout the nation that negatively affect the black community. He helped organize rallies, gave speeches across the country, and mobilized thousands of people to help end racial injustice. 

  2. He inspires us

    MLK inspired millions of people in his lifetime and continues to inspire us to this day. Across the globe, activists look to King for inspiration and courage. Modern movements for racial equality and justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, are extensions of the work that he started.

  3. He promoted civil disobedience

    King's tactics and manner of protest were largely that of civil disobedience. This including sit ins, marches, and disregard for unjust laws. Many of us follow his example today when protesting and adopt the tactic of civil disobedience. 

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