The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a
federal US holiday has been argued by some. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina)
led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough
to receive such an honor. He also criticized King's opposition to the Vietnam
War and accused him of espousing "action-oriented Marxism".
Presdident Ronald Reagan was also opposed
to the holiday, citing cost concerns. He threatened to veto the King Day bill
but recanted after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority
(338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate).
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted against
the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican
Governor Evan Mecham's rescinding of the state holiday in honor of King created
by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable,
McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize
the holiday despite opposition from Mecham.
The Arizonans, in 1990, were given an
opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed
to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday. Prior to that date,
New Hampshire and Arizona had not observed the day. Throughout the 1990s, this
was heavily criticized. After a 1990 proposition to recognize the holiday in
Arizona did not pass, the National Football League boycotted hosting Super Bowl
XXVII at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The hip-hop group Public Enemy recorded
a song titled "By The Time I Get To Arizona", on their 1991 album
Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, in which they describe assassinating
Arizona Governor Fife Symington III for his opposition to the holiday.
South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed
a bill On May 2, 2000 to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday an official
state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid
holiday for all state employees. Prior to this, employees could choose between
celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate holidays.
There have also been supportive voices
of King who argue that the national observance of his birthday actually domesticates
his message. They suggest that by honoring him it enables the American people
to forget how subversive he really was, and, therefore, they want a return to
the serious implications of King's desire for a complete revolution.
Overall, in 2007, 33% of employers gave
employees the day off, a 2% increase over the previous year. There was little
difference in observance by large and small employers: 33% for firms with over
1,000 employees; and, 32% for firms with under 1,000 employees. The observance
is most popular amongst nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories
The reasons for this have varied, ranging
from the recent addition of the holiday (each year more businesses are closed
than the year before, although often those that do choose to close "make
it up" by no longer closing for Presidents Day) to its occurrence just
two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when many businesses
are closed for part or sometimes all of the week. Additionally, many schools
and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but
may hold seminars or celebrations of Dr. King's message.