What is Martin Luther King Jr Day and Why is it Celebrated?

On the third Monday in January, the United States observes Martin Luther King Jr Day as a federal holiday. Martin Luther King Jr, a leader in the civil rights movement, is honored through this.

The occasion is observed annually on the Monday closest to his birthday, which falls on January 15. It takes place on January 16 this year. King would have turned 94 years old on Sunday. At the age of 39, he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

What is Martin Luther King Jr Day?

The holiday was first honored on January 20, 1986, after President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing it into law in 1983. In 2000, it was first detected by all 50 states. According to Reagan, the holiday is intended to honor King and “the just cause he stood for.” Because Martin Luther King Jr became the country’s preeminent nonviolent commander, Reagan claimed in 1983, “America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, a more peaceful nation.”

Only King, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus are commemorated with holidays in the US, according to the White House. The federal holiday is observed on Monday by public schools as well as banks and stock exchanges.

Significance and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr

The King remained the most well-known African American leader of his day for many years after his passing. The successful effort to have a holiday named in his honor in the United States and the construction of a King memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., close to the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, both attested to his stature as a significant historical figure.

He has been honored with public holidays, sculptures, paintings, streets, schools, and other honors in a number of states and localities. More emphasis has been placed on King’s advocacy for civil rights than on the contentious speeches he made during his final year, denouncing American involvement in Vietnam and advocating for the Poor People’s Campaign.

Although efforts to honor King’s life started almost immediately after his assassination, the idea of a national holiday did not receive considerable congressional support until the late 1970s. A King holiday measure was sponsored in 1968 by Michigan representative John Conyers. Once the newly established Congressional Black Caucus included the holiday in its reform agenda, the concept started to gradually gain political support. While serving as the first president of the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King, Jr, Center for Nonviolent Social Change (later renamed the King Center), which grew to be one of the main repositories of King’s papers, Coretta Scott King also played a significant role in gaining public support for the King holiday campaign.

What was King’s legacy?

In the 1950s and 1960s, King spearheaded a campaign of nonviolent demonstrations and civil disobedience in the fight to eradicate discrimination, especially racial segregation, in the US. He fought for legal equality while also pushing for social and economic advancements for African Americans.

Journalist Jenn M Jackson wrote for Al Jazeera in 2021 that “King was a significant force in exposing the anti-Black, racist problems facing Black Americans to the communities, living rooms, and dinner tables of white Americans who had long had the privilege of disregarding and denying its existence.” He did this at the expense of his family’s safety as well as his own.

“We were on the mission to redeem America from the triple plague of racial intolerance, of war, and poverty for a largely invisible minority, [and] to have that desire is absolutely amazing,” his biographer Taylor Branch said in 2018 when discussing his legacy.
Although race was at the center of this conflict, economic effects were also felt. King intended to emphasize the fact that black people made significantly less money than white people.

Branch claimed that his long-term objective was to start a Poor People’s Campaign, a multicultural initiative to end poverty. King oversaw a peaceful movement. His fervent opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was a result of his strong views in civil rights and non-violence.

Throughout his lifetime, King’s beliefs and contributions made him progressively less popular. A Gallup survey found that in 1966, 63 percent of Americans had a negative opinion of King, up from 37 percent in 1963. He is now regarded as one of the most respected individuals in the nation.

How is the US marking the holiday this year?

Local media stories claim that the civil rights leaders’ embrace when King discovered he had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize served as the inspiration for the sculpture by Han Willis Thomas. The civil rights activist’s church in Atlanta hosted a Sunday service, and President Joe Biden became the first US president to address the gathering. In his remarks, he urged the audience to learn about injustice and extremism from King’s life.

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When was Martin Luther King Jr Day first celebrated?

In 1986, King’s first national holiday was observed. However, the National Constitution Center reports that it took longer than that for states all around the nation to declare the holiday, with battles taking place in Arizona, South Carolina, and other places. Since 2000, each state has acknowledged the holiday.

How did Martin Luther King Jr Day become a holiday?

On April 8, 1968, just four days after King’s murder, former US Rep. John Conyers of Michigan submitted legislation to establish a federal holiday in his honor. Over the following ten years, interest in the event would grow across the nation, and states including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Connecticut would establish statewide holidays in King’s honor.

Conyers reintroduced the federal legislation over a period of years, supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The bill was also brought up in the House in 1979, on what would have been King’s 50th birthday, but it was defeated by a vote of 5 to 1.

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Coretta Scott King and others continued to advocate for the holiday and mobilize the public when the vote was narrowly defeated. King would appear before Congress on several occasions. In 1982, she and the musician Stevie Wonder delivered a petition in favor of the holiday that had amassed over 6 million signatures. Stevie Wonder had written the song “Happy Birthday” in favour of enacting the holiday.

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