The third Monday of every January bears the honorable distinction of being named in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The man was a controversial civil rights leader in his time, who fought a hard, dangerous fight for racial equality. Looking back at history, Martin Luther King, Jr. was as responsible as any of our other forefathers who are credited with shaping the direction of this nation. Sadly, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, so we pay homage to the man on a national holiday that bears his name. Here are some facts and trivia about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the man himself.
MLK Day is The Third Monday of January
Since MLK Day is a floating holiday – falls on a day, and not a date – the actual date of the holiday can fluctuate. Martin Luther King Day can fall on one of seven dates between January 15 and January 21. The dates don’t go in order either; if MLK is January 17 one year, it won’t necessarily be January 18 the next. This is because when January 1 falls on a Tuesday or later, the third Monday skips to the next week. Also, leap year has a hand in creating the pattern of MLK Day dates. Luckily, our calendars always remind us.
The Original Bill to Create MLK Day Fell Short of Passing
The idea of creating a national holiday to honor Dr. King first reached the floor of the House in 1979, where if fell five votes short of passing. The main arguments against adding a holiday to honor Dr. King were that adding a federal holiday would cost the nation too much money to give all federal workers another day off, and that it would break tradition of honoring only former public officials of the United States. Dr. King never held public office. Finally, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday into law, and it was first celebrated on January 20, 1986.
Some States Didn’t Want to Recognize MLK Day
Even after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a national holiday, there were states that refused to recognize it. Arizona, through voter confusion and strange politics , actually voted against having the Holiday. The voters had a measure to replace Columbus Day with MLK Day, and this infuriated Italian-American groups, so they lobbied successfully against its passage. The result was that Arizona looked like they rejected MLK day with 75 percent of the vote, and consequently, the NFL rescinded a Super Bowl that was scheduled for Sun Devil Stadium in 1993. The last state of the union to recognize MLK Day was New Hampshire, but currently all states recognize it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for being among the first leaders of nonviolent protest in the Western world , according to then-Nobel Committee Chairman, Gunnar Jahn. Dr. King’s tactics of civil disobedience, such as organizing marches and staging sit-ins, often resulted in arrests being made. Despite the high tensions, these nonviolent acts resulted in widespread sympathy towards the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King organized thousands and reached millions by peaceful means of protest. Tragically, his life ended violently in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 when he was assassinated.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that challenges Americans to use MLK Day as a day of service , instead of a day off. Currently, the Corporation for National & Community Service is running a website to help people find service projects for their area in which they can participate on MLK Day. If you’re so inclined to try your hand as a community organizer, you can find ways to organize service projects for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on that site as well. As their slogan says: “Not a day off. Make it a day on.”
Whether you marched on Washington and heard the I Have a Dream speech, or you just read about Dr. King in a history book, make it a point to do something to honor this man on MLK Day, every year. You can perform service projects in your community, or you can read about the life and times of Dr. King. Just do something and make Martin Luther King Day memorable.