Martin Luther King is known to the world as a nonviolent activist in the civil rights movement, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize and the victim of one of America’s most famous assassinations. Some may not know him for any of these aspects, but still participate directly or indirectly in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events. Even more interesting is that few understand what it took to get this holiday officially observed in all 50 states.
The campaign for honoring King’s service in civil rights began immediately after his 1968 assassination. At this time, only Christopher Columbus and George Washington had federal holidays named after them. That didn’t matter to U.S. State Representative John Conyers (D- Michigan) or U.S. Senator Edward Brooke (R- Massachusetts). Together, they introduced a bill to congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. The bill finally went before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979 but was voted down. Stevie Wonder responded by releasing a song called “Happy Birthday” to energize the campaign.
Three years later, U.S. State Representative Katie Hall (D- Indiana) reintroduced the bill. Although he opposed it, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill on November 2, 1983. The holiday wasn’t observed for the first time until January 20, 1986. Many states were outraged and pushed back the recognition of King’s birthday as a federal holiday. It was a long 32 years, but Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000. This year marks the 13th year that this great nation collectively acknowledges the works of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As our country remains in shock over the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., it leads me to wonder how King would respond if he were still alive today. Do you think he would he be able to help mitigate the violence that we’re seeing in this country?
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Please note that the views expressed by Dr. Eadie through PagingDrEadie.com are that of the individual only and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Detroit Medical Center.