During the 1950s and ’60s, civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the power of service to strengthen communities
and achieve common goals.
This federal holiday honoring the civil
rights leader is observed on the third Monday in January. In 2009, the holiday
falls on Jan. 20. Initiated by Congress in 1994, King Day of Service builds
on that that legacy by transforming the federal holiday honoring Dr. King into
a national day of community service grounded in his teachings of nonviolence
and social justice.
The aim is to make the holiday a day
ON, where people of all ages and backgrounds come together to improve lives,
bridge social barriers, and move our nation closer to the “Beloved Community”
that Dr. King envisioned.
It took 15 years to create the federal
Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan,
first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King
was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing
the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress.
Conyers and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Democrat
of New York, resubmitted King holiday legislation each subsequent legislative
session. Public pressure for the holiday mounted during the 1982 and 1983 civil
rights marches in Washington.
Congress passed the holiday legislation
in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. A compromise
moving the holiday from Jan. 15, King's birthday, which was considered too close
to Christmas and New Year's, to the third Monday in January helped overcome
opposition to the law.
National Consensus on
A number of states resisted celebrating
the holiday. Some opponents said King did not deserve his own holiday—contending
that the entire civil rights movement rather than one individual, however instrumental,
should be honored. Several southern states include celebrations for various
Confederate generals on that day. Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992
after a tourist boycott. In 1999, New Hampshire changed the name of Civil Rights
Day to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.