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The History Behind MLK Day

Friday, 14 Jan 2011 01:37 PM

While Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, it took until 1983 for Martin Luther King day to become a holiday. The history behind MLK Day and how did it become a holiday is a story of persistence.

Congressman John Conyers of Michigan was the first person to propose legislation for a commemorative holiday honoring the peace and freedom fighter King. He began his push for the holiday shortly after the assassination and re-submitted the request each legislative year. Public pressure finally took hold in 1982 and 1983 with civil marches in Washingmartin luther king
birthdayton. Congress passed the legislation and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law November 2, 1983. The compromise that was made to give it more favor was moving the date from January 15th, King's birthday, to the third Monday in January. This gave more space between New Year's Day and the holiday.
While the legislation was signed into law in 1983, the federal government did not officially celebrate the date until 1986. By 1989, 44 states had adopted the day as a state holiday. It took until 1993 for some form of MLK Day to be celebrated in all 50 states. In 1999, New Hampshire became the last state to offer MLK Day as a paid holiday, replacing an existing Civil Rights Day in its calendar. South Carolina was the last state to make the day a paid holiday for all of its state employees. Prior to that, they had the choice between MLK Day and one of three Confederate-related holidays to choose from.
Now, almost 30 years after the original legislation was signed, the commemorative day has turned into a day of service and volunteerism. Spurred on by the actions of Pennsylvania Senator Wolford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, the King Holiday and Service Act was signed by President Clinton in August of 1994. This act honors Dr. King with a call to action of Americans to transform MLK Day into a day of civil action. What a way to celebrate the work of a noted peace maker and reform seeker like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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