How Did Martin Luther King Jr. Get a Holiday?

How Did Martin Luther King Jr. Get a Holiday?


Why wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrated
in all 50 states until the year 2000? And what do the NFL, taxes, and Stevie Wonder
have do with it? Most of us are familiar with the Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his role in advancing civil rights, and his participation
in landmark protests such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Montgomery
bus boycotts, the Selma to Montgomery Marches as well as his involvement in civil disobedience
and nonviolence. But even though the legacy of Martin Luther
King Jr. seems relatively common today, his role in US history was contentious during
his years of activism. He was closely monitored by the FBI during
his lifetime for his protests. He was arrested approximately 29 times on
trumped up charges for his attempts to change unjust and biased laws. He spoke openly in favor of labor rights,
and against US involvement in the Vietnam War and racial terror, causing many to label
him anti-American or a “communist sympathizer.” In 2014 Professor Beverly Gage, a historian
at Yale, unearthed a 1964 letter from a supposed detractor who accused King of infidelity and
insinuated that he should commit suicide. The letter was discovered to be sent from
the FBI, which was then led by J Edgar Hoover, a notorious King detractor. Although the discovery of the letter’s authorship
came over a decade later from the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach. And when he was awarded an honorary doctorate
from Yale in 1964, certain parents, students, and members of the public expressed outrage
at the University’s decision. But the tricky part of this conversation is
that yes, Dr. King in some cases broke the law. But those same laws were later overturned
when they were discovered to be unjust. So although his legacy is currently celebrated,
that was not always the case making the passage of his holiday controversial when it was first
proposed. But the pathway to MLK day becoming a holiday
was a rocky one and here at the Origin of Everything we thought we’d take this occasion
to note some of the important landmarks on the path to how the federal holiday came into
existence. Because although it might seem like (something)
of a given to many of us today, the holiday wasn’t recognized and celebrated in all
50 states until 2000. That’s right, MLK Day wasn’t fully recognized
nationwide until after the world calmed down from Y2K madness. But before we get to what halted the holiday’s
spread, we should first ask ourselves: What were the earliest iterations of Martin
Luther King Jr. Day and when did it begin? Beginning in March 1968, MLK was in Memphis
in support of black sanitation workers, who had been on strike. On April 3rd he delivered his final speech,
“I’ve been to the Mountaintop” at the Mason Temple. On April 4th he was shot and killed by James
Earl Ray while standing on the second floor balcony outside of his room at the Lorraine
Motel. 4 days after his assassination, Congressman
John Conyers of Michigan (who recently resigned) introduced the first legislation to make Martin
Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. By June 26th of that same year the Martin
Luther King Jr Memorial Center is founded in Atlanta Georgia. On January 15th 1969 the King Center began
to commemorate his birthday with an ecumenical service, which gains attention as a model
for other observances of his birthday nationwide. But these were privately held ceremonies and
not a federal holiday. So that brings us to our next question: If Martin Luther King Jr. Day began as a series of private observances,
then when did it become a federal holiday? And why was there resistance to its passage? Well it seems like there were two camps that
formed in resistance to recognizing MLK Day as a federal holiday. The first was concerned with King’s history
as a political objector and activist while the other was concerned with the costs associated
with creating a federal holiday. In 1971, the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference collected 3 million signatures in support of making King Day a holiday and
these signatures were presented to congress, but congress did not progress any action to
make it a federal holiday. In 1973 Illinois became the first state to
pass legislation making MLK a state holiday, followed by Massachusetts and Connecticut
in 1974. And in 1975 the New Jersey State Supreme Court
rules that the state must provide a paid holiday for state employees on MLK day because of
its labor contracts with the NJ State Employees Association. From 1975-1983 pressure from the public, congressional
hearings from King’s widow Coretta Scott King and calls to action from the National
Council of Churches all influenced the conversation around whether Martin Luther King Jr. Da y
should become a federal holiday in all 50 states. Recording artist Stevie Wonder even got in
on the act with the release of his 1980 song “Happy Birthday” celebrating the birthday
of Dr. King and urging for the holiday to be passed. By 1983 the continued pressure had paid off
and both the Senate and Congress were strongly in favor of the passage of MLK Day. But even with a majority of leaders supporting
the passage of the federal holiday, there still remained some holdouts. Sen Jesse Helms of North Carolina came out
against the bill calling King a supporter of “radical political” views and “action-oriented
Marxism,” before temporarily blocking the Senate action on the House approved bill in
1983. Although the bill was criticized by Helms,
it wasn’t universally unpopular or popular along specific party lines with Senators and
Congressmen and Women supporting the bill on either side of the aisle. Then in 1983 the King Holiday Bill was passed,
which called for MLK day to be celebrated on the 3rd Monday in January. The bill received bipartisan support and was
sponsored by Democratic Rep Katie Hall from Indiana and Republican Rep Jack Kemp of NY. Later that same year the bill was passed in
the Senate sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy before being signed by President Reagan on
November 3rd. The holiday was scheduled to begin in 1986. So the first MLK day was celebrated as a federal
holiday in 1986. But it wasn’t recognized in all 50 states
until 2000. So that brings us to our final question: What happened to the holiday in the 14 years
between the scheduled beginning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and its first nationwide recognition in
2000? Well in 1984 the King Holiday commission was
formed and chaired by Coretta Scott King and the holiday was first celebrated in 1986,
as planned. But remember when I noted that some were opposed
to passing a federal holiday in honor of King because of the potential cost to taxpayers? Well with the passage of a federal holiday
came the question of paid leave for unionized employees. In 1990 only 18% of the 317 corporate employers
surveyed by the Bureau of National Affairs provided a paid King Holiday. Also the creation of a federal holiday isn’t
exactly cheap and it’s different from national holidays. The 10 recognized federal holidays celebrated
today are not technically national holidays. A national holiday would mean that congress
and or the President has enforced the recognition of a holiday in all 50 states. Whereas a federal holiday is a holiday that
applies only to federal employees and to the District of Columbia. And with the creation of a holiday that gives
time off to federal employees as well as the potential for paid time off to employees in
the private sector, there is an associated cost. A 1999 congressional report notes: “Supporters of the bill argued that a federal
holiday would provide genuine and deserved recognition to Dr. King and the civil rights
movement that he led. Opponents maintained that the nation did not
need a tenth federal holiday, and cited its expense to the taxpayers—an estimated $220
to $240 million a year in lost productivity in the federal workforce and more than $4
billion in the private sector.” (Federal Holidays, Evolution and Application) But even though they were concerned about
the cost of providing a holiday, there were instances in which employers and states actually
lost money for not recognizing MLK day. Labor unions were one of the strongest supporters
of the making MLK Day a federal holiday, especially in light of his support of workers’ rights
and labor unions. And in fact waves of strikes or workers refusing
to work on King’s birthday in the 1970s helped garner support for making MLK day a
federal holiday. In 1991, the National Football League voted
to remove the 1993 Superbowl from Arizona over the state’s refusal to recognize MLK
Day, deciding to host it in Pasadena instead. By 1992 Arizona passed a referendum establishing
a statewide King holiday, which was first celebrated in 1993. But even with these counter arguments presented
against the passage of MLK Day, there was still steadily growing support for the new
holiday. Then Governor Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire
signs MLK day into law in 1999, making the year 2000 the first year that the holiday
was celebrated in every state nationwide. So how does it all add up? Well it seems the path to MLK Day becoming
a federal holiday was a rocky one. And although pushback surrounding King’s
recognition after his assassination was influenced by his legacy as a civil rights leader, another
component of the story was surrounding union organizing alongside individual states and
employers being reluctant to offer a paid holiday for employees. But it was the advocacy of unions, the activism
of the general public, and the sustained organizing of groups such as the King Center that finally
saw this federal holiday recognized across the US. So what do you think? Have any other sources and insights to share
on the origins of this federal holiday? Drop them below, have a safe long weekend,
and we’ll see you next week! Hey Guys! So we had a some great feedback from our holiday
episode on “why Santa wears red?” Kimberly Donegan Jones on Facebook asked a
popular question, “Why reindeer?” Well the answer here has 2 parts. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “An Account
of a Visit From Saint Nicholas” which he wrote in 1822, published anonymously in 1823
before being attributed to him in 1837, is the first noted source that mentioned Santa’s
furry friends. Moore noted that Santa’s miniature sled
was being pulled by “8 tiny reindeer” and he even gave them all of their names:
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.” But arguably the most popular reindeer, Rudolph,
didn’t come on the scene until 1939 when a department story advertiser named Robert
L. May invented the character to encourage shopping during the holiday season. May turned the story of Rudolph into a children’s
book and in the first year alone Montgomery Ward Department story distributed 2 million
copies to children across the country. May’s brother in law then wrote a song about
Rudolph that was popularized by singer Gene Autry. So that’s it for this week and we’ll see you next time.

38 thoughts on “How Did Martin Luther King Jr. Get a Holiday?

  1. It's interesting to note that New Hampshire rolled over its former Fast Day into Civil Rights Day in 1991, before then renaming that day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1999.

    This means the holiday was not at all a fiscal concern to the state, as it may have been for others. Rather, it was purely a debate of ideology and principle. This is quite an interesting debate considering that Fast Day was a religious, state-mandated holiday meant to repent for the sins of the year.

    Source: https://www.nh.gov/nhinfo/fast.html

  2. Man, remember when bills on all but the most politicized bills routinely received bipartisan support? (I don't. Another downside of being a millennial.) It's incredible to think that so much has changed in the past few decades.

  3. Just thought you might wanna know there was an editing error and some footage was repeated. At first i felt like i was experiencing a glitch in the matrix!

  4. great video! thank you! 🙂
    please do a video about the origin of trade! i think it's an important subject, as this is the main thing that drives our society today.
    i suggest to read "the money game and beyond" for research on the subject 🙂

  5. Don`t forget tomorrow is NWD (National Womanizer Day) also known as MLK day too.
    God knows Martin loved the ladies, but his wifey didn`t know. Keep it on the down low peeps!

  6. Im 41 and grew up in California…I don't recall ever not celebrating MLK Day…this post was very enlightening…thank you! ☺🇺🇸

  7. there is something weird going on, i remember 1985, and 86 but 1991 just checked maps, im in Arizona it said Arizona. where was I at?

  8. Being a (former) resident of Virginia, I can tell you that there was significant racial pushback. Martin Luther King Jr Day happen to fall on Lee-Jackson Day, a Virginia state holiday. For a while, Virginia celebrated "Lee-Jackson-King Day" until Lee-Jackson Day was finally moved to another day.

  9. Before MLK day was a holiday, it was a day off for people who worked at Boston University. A lot of people went on job interviews that day and left B.U. I was one of them.

  10. I saw the question at the beginning and stopped. I can answer them for you. Now, how about calling him DOCTOR KING since he HAS a PHD in theology!!! The sad part is you have a Black woman as the host and no one can come up with this accurate research??

    You say, "Montel, stop trippin'" and I will reply with this. His nickname was DOC!!!

  11. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is his name. Listen to his I have a dream speech. in 1963. They introduce him as DOCTOR!! (In case, you don't believe me.)
    For the record, he has an actual PHD in theology from Boston College. 1955. (I did not know about the honorary Doctorate in 1964 from Yale!) Man, has America buried that one!

  12. Because Veterans Day was born of Armistice Day, many people were upset when the “Uniform Holiday Bill” was signed in 1968, changingVeterans Day from Nov. 11 to instead be observed on a Monday, in part to promote travel and commerce by providing three-day weekends for federal employees….as a veteran i find that offensive and unjust

  13. I don't know about federal workers but every white business in Georgia does not recognize MLK jr. day at all. Some of the jobs I have worked for will let you have the day off but you won't get paid for it. President day sale, Washington day sale, Saint Patrick day sale no Martin Luther King Jr. sale. It's a pseudo holiday and everyone knows it.

  14. Very good video. This is very unbiased. I appreciate hearing an unfiltered explanation of how MLK day started… shows you how important this man was. The things he did, what he stood for made our nation greater. This man in my eyes is on the Mount Rushmore of GREAT Americans.

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