MONDAY, JANUARY 16: Tradition broke 26 years ago in America as the nation first observed a federal holiday for a private citizen: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just as King’s activism for civil rights always was a struggle, so was the political campaign to establish this holiday.
After an initial bill for a King holiday fell short five votes in 1979, the American people rallied. A campaign for a holiday was supported by Stevie Wonder’s release of “Happy Birthday” in 1980, and a Rally for Peace press conference followed in 1981. Approximately 6 million petition signatures “voted” for a federal holiday, resulting in what The Nation called “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.” Finally, the U.S. Congress and President Reagan were pushed to establish a federal holiday, first observed in 1986. Still, not everyone supported—or supports—Dr. King and his cause. The federal holiday wasn’t observed by all 50 states until 2000. And, as is pointed out in a recent article in the Washington Post, civil rights is still a cause that requires our attention and work.
Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is close to King’s actual birthday of January 15, 1929. From 1955 to 1968, Dr. King led the U.S. civil rights movement. (Wikipedia has details.) Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King preached and lived by nonviolent means until his assassination in 1968. (Read a biography on Dr. King from modern peacemaker Dan Buttry.)
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.