Martin Luther King Jr Day
Martin Luther King Jr Day is a federal holiday and national day of service in the United States honoring Martin Luther King Jr for his leadership during the Civil Rights Movement. It is intended to coincide with King's January 15 birthday, but formally observed on the third Monday of the month, which can occur between January 15 and 22.
The State of Alabama observes a Lee-King Day on that date, honoring both King and Confederate general Robert E. Lee, whose birthday had been observed as a state holiday since 1901.
Michigan U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr filed a bill to recognize King with a national holiday on April 8, 1968, four days after his murder by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. The measure was not passed, and Conyers and fellow Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York introduced the bill in each subsequent session of congress.
Local governments slowly began to recognize the King holiday. Atlanta, Georgia was among the first, in 1973. Labor unions such as the United Autoworkers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees actively lobbied for the holiday. With union backing, President Jimmy Carter endorsed Conyers' bill, but with little effect. Musician Stevie Wonder used the single "Birthday", performed in 1979 and released in 1980 to promote the adoption of a federal King holiday. Wonder headlined a rally and concert at the National Mall on January 15, 1981 with Diana Ross, Jesse Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron. Incoming President Ronald Reagan, however, did not support the proposal, which he said would be too expensive. Wonder and Coretta Scott King continued to gather signatures, presenting a petition with more than 6 million names to Congress in February 1982. With the threat of a national walkout growing, the measure passed Congress after a 16-day filibuster by Jesse Helms and was signed into law by Reagan on October 19. The law created a Martin Luther King Jr Federal Holiday Commission to coordinate observation of the new holiday, which was first officially observed on January 20, 1986.
In Alabama the first formal bill to have the state recognize a Martin Luther King holiday was introduced by Representative Alvin Holmes in 1983. His bill proposed to combine a new holiday with the state's existing holiday observed on the third Monday of January as Robert E. Lee's birthday. Then Governor George Wallace endorsed the proposal, which passed both houses of the Alabama State Legislature on unanimous votes and was signed into law in 1984, establishing Lee-King Day.
The United States first recognized Martin Luther King Jr Day as a "Day of Service" with the signing of the King Holiday and Service Act by President Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994.
Alabama State Senator Vivian Figures and State Representative John Rogers have sponsored legislation that would transfer Lee's holiday to Confederate Memorial Day in April, or to coincide with Columbus Day in October (closer to the date of Lee's death), leaving the January holiday to honor King alone. Those bills, though enjoying some bipartisan support, have not yet been brought to a vote.
- Weiss, Jana (November 2, 2017) "Remember, Celebrate, and Forget? The Martin Luther King Day and the Pitfalls of Civil Religion" Journal of American Studies. Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 428–448
- Gore, Leada (January 20, 2020) "In Alabama, Martin Luther King Day also honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee." The Birmingham News
- Remkus, Ashley (March 7, 2020) "Alabama lawmaker wants to separate Martin Luther King, Robert E. Lee holidays." The Birmingham News
- Charles, Safiya (January 24, 2021) "How Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ helped form US holiday." Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press
- National Veterans Day website