From the time of her husband’s death on April 4, 1968, Coretta Scott King vowed that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday would be observed as a national holiday. Honoring the man important in the Civil Rights Movement was controversial. It is the only national holiday that honors an individual American. Many critics believed it was more important to honor the Civil Rights Movement as a whole rather than Dr. King as a person. It took 32 years, but in the end Mrs. King’s dream did come true.
MLK Day: From the Beginning 1968-1983
Congressman John Conyers first introduced legislation in 1968, four days after Rev. King was assassinated. The Michigan Democrat’s bill stalled in Congress. After that, Rep. Conyers and New York Democrat Rep. Shirley Chisholm presented legislation for the holiday during each of the following sessions of Congress. In 1983, Congress passed the legislation and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. The signing of the bill on November 2, 1983, witnessed by Mrs. King, designated the third Monday in January of each year to be the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday.
MLK Day: Growing Recognition 1986-1989
It would take another seventeen years before the entire nation recognized the day as a paid national holiday. The first Martin Luther King Holiday was observed in seventeen states on January 20, 1986. Three years later, forty-four states observed the holiday on January 16, 1989.
MLK Day: Obstacles to Success 1992-2000
Arizona, South Carolina, and New Hampshire were the last states to hold out in observing the day as a paid national holiday. In 1987, the governor of Arizona, Evan Mecham, repealed Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday as his first act of office. This led to a national boycott of the state. Arizona citizens voted to pass the bill in 1992 and observed it for the first time in January of 1993. In 1999, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen signed a bill replacing Civil Rights Day with Martin Luther King Day. In 2000, South Carolina became the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday and Martin Luther King Day became paid holiday in all fifty states.
“The History of Martin Luther King Day” InfoPlease.com
“A Brief History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day ” Time Magazine, January 18, 2010
“President Ronald Reagan Signed Bill Establishing the Martin Luther King Holiday” Jet Magazine, June 28, 2004