Origins of MLK Jr. Day

The origins of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a complicated one that took over a decade.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the first modern private citizen to be recognized with a federal holiday, but it was a long and strenuous process to get the bill passed and have the entirety of the states finally observe MLK Jr. Day. On the flip side, have you ever wondered how this holiday came to be?

We have John Conyers, then Democratic Congressman from Michigan, to thank for the day of remembrance. Conyers was not only one of the few black men in Congress at the time but happened to be active in the civil rights movement, attending one of Martin Luther King’s biggest marches on Freedom Day in 1965. He was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which would play a key role in gaining support for the holiday.

The congressman introduced a bill for a federal holiday four days after King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Conyers would introduce the bill for 15 years and fail time and time again, even when it made it to the floor to vote on.

By the early 1980s, CBC had collected six million signatures supporting the federal recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1980, American musician, Stevie Wonder, released the song titled “Happy Birthday” with the intention of promoting the holiday.

Conyers efforts paid off in 1983 when the bill made it to the floor again. Jesse Helms, a Republican Senator from North Carolina, famously filibustered the bill when he literally brought a file the FBI had been keeping on King in an attempt to convict him of being a communist as evidence the bill should be shut down again. The senator stirred the pot, or the peace, by bringing up the FBI’s interest in the civil rights activist to the point where New York Senator Daniel Moynihan threw documents on the ground.

The next day, the bill declaring the third Monday of every January a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Ronald Reagan signed Public Law No. 98-144 on Nov. 2, 1983.

Unfortunately, the hardships wouldn’t stop there. The First MLK Jr. Day was celebrated on Jan. 20, 1986, three years after President Reagan signed the law. Even then so, several states, the majority being southern states, strongly resisted the observance. It took until the year 2000 for every state to acknowledge the federal holiday.

Martin Luther King Jr. will be commemorated until the end of time, and if you haven’t noticed, Artificial Intelligence is everywhere. You can turn yourself into what looks like a main character from a fantasy novel simply using a filter on an app or a website.

In honor of this National Day of Service, in 2022, Community College of Denver launched the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Year of Service. During the Year of Service, we shared opportunities for employees to volunteer throughout our Denver community. We want to celebrate the efforts of fellow CityHawks to make our world a better place, just as Dr. King would have done. Each year on MLK Day, CCD recognizes employees that have volunteered to serve throughout our community and re-launch the Year of Service.