BY Abelino Ruiz
As Martin Luther King Junior Day passes us by for another year, many of us just see it as another holiday in which we don’t have to go to school or work. Everyone knows why it is a holiday, but very few people know how or when it became a federal day of remembrance.
Four days after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, plans were underway to dedicate a day to his accomplishments in life. Congressman John Conyers was the first person to propose the idea on a federal level. In Atlanta, people held annual celebrations for King’s work and pushed for nationwide recognition. In the 1970s, several states enacted statewide MLKJ days, but Congress still had not taken action. The campaign for a national holiday began right after he was assassinated and lots of people worked on it for a long time.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter created a bill for a federal holiday, but it was defeated by five votes. Today, Martin Luther King Junior is a symbol of democracy, but the people who were voting on the bill still lived in a time period where MLKJ was seen as the cause for a lot of controversy. At the time, it was the first holiday for someone who wasn’t a president and it was the first for an African American. Even after the setbacks, King’s wife, Coretta, fought for approval of the holiday.
Stevie Wonder enters the scene. The talented musician released “Happy Birthday” in support of an MLKJ day after news of the defeat in Congress. The song was a hit and Wonder teamed up with Coretta King to fight Congress’ decision. The duo delivered a petition with 6 million signatures on it in favor of the holiday to the speaker of the house.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the third Monday of every January to be Martin Luther King Jr. day. The holiday was to first take place in 1986. By the time it officially became a recognized federal holiday in 1986, 17 states had already done the honor.
Dr. King reminds us, to this day, to always treat our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances with dignity and respect. He represents democracy, kindness, and peace. “Peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.” ~MLKJ