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Martin Luther King JR. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The concept of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions. After King’s death, U.S. Representative John Conyers and U.S. 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 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, as King never held public office. At the time, only two other figures had national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

The King Center sought support from the business community and the public soon after. In 1980, artist Stevie Wonder popularized the campaign with the track "Happy Birthday" and staged the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981, cementing the strategy's effectiveness. A petition to Congress to adopt the law garnered six million signatures, making it the largest petition in US history in favor of a single issue.

The vacation was initially rejected by President Ronald Reagan, who cited financial concerns. However, on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan approved a measure presented by Representative Katie Hall that established a federal holiday in King's honor. The law was passed by a vote of 78 to 22 in the Senate and 338 to 90 in the House of Representatives. On January 20, 1986, the holiday was honored for the first time. Because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, it is honored on the third Monday of January rather than directly on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

 

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