Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States

On the third Monday of January, the United States observes the birthday and celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. as a federal holiday. Dr. King is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transportation and for racial equality in the United States. His most famous address was the “I Have a Dream” speech. He was an advocate of non-violent protest and became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is seen as a day to promote equal rights for all Americans, regardless of  background. Some educational establishments mark the day by teaching their students about the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the struggle against racial segregation and racism in America. In recent years, federal legislation has encouraged Americans to give some of their time on this day as volunteers in citizen action groups.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is also known as Martin Luther King’s birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Several states have chosen to combine commemorations of King’s birthday with other observances as indicated below:

  • In Alabama: “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Birthday”.
  • In Arizona: “Martin Luther King Jr./Civil Rights Day”.
  • In Idaho: “Martin Luther King Jr.–Idaho Human Rights Day”.
  • In Mississippi: “Martin Luther King’s and Robert E. Lee’s Birthdays”.
  • In New Hampshire: “Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day”.
  • In Virginia: it was known as Lee–Jackson–King Day, combining King’s birthday with the established Lee–Jackson Day. In 2000, Lee–Jackson Day was moved to the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday in its own right.
  • In Arkansas: it was known as “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday” from 1985 to 2017. Legislation in March 2017 changed the name of the state holiday to “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday” and moved the commemoration of Lee to October

In 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King died, a campaign was started for his birthday to become a federal holiday to honor him. After the first bill was introduced, trade unions lead the campaign for the federal holiday. It was endorsed in 1976. Following support from the musician Stevie Wonder with his single “Happy Birthday” and a petition with six million signatures, the bill became law in 1983. Martin Luther King Day was first observed in 1986. It was not observed in all states until the year 2000.

 

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