The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate the timeless values he taught us through his example -- the values of courage, truth, justice, mutual responsibility, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King's character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that imbued his revolutionary spirit.
Every King Holiday provides the opportunity for citizens to learn the values of nonviolence, including unconditional love, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, which are so desperately needed to unify America. It is a day of intensive education and training in Martin's philosophy and methods of nonviolent social change and conflict-reconciliation. The Holiday provides a unique opportunity to teach young people to fight evil, not people, to get in the habit of asking them, "What is the most loving way I can resolve this conflict?"
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education, and tribute, but is above all a day of service. All across America on the Holiday, people serve in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can't read, mentoring at-risk youngsters, consoling the broken-hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.
* adapted from Coretta Scott King's The Meaning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
evolution of the holiday
April 8, 1968
Four days after Dr. King is assassinated, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduces first legislation providing for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday.
June 26, 1968
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center is founded in Atlanta. The mission is to establish a living memorial to Dr. King, to preserve his papers and promote his teachings. Shortly after, King Center Founder Coretta Scott King directs the small staff to being planning for the inaugural observance of Dr. King's birthday.
January 15, 1969
The King Center sponsors the inaugural observance of Dr. King's birthday with an ecumenical service and other events and calls for nation-wide commemorations of Dr. King's birthday. This observance becomes the model for subsequent annual commemorations of Dr. King's birthday nation-wide, setting the tone of celebration of Dr. King's life, education in his teachings and nonviolent action to carry forward his unfinished work.
Petitions gathered by SCLC bearing 3 million signatures in support of King Holiday are presented to Congress. But Congress takes no action to move holiday legislation forward.
November 4, 1978
National Council of Churches calls on Congress to pass King Holiday.
February 19, 1979
Coretta Scott King testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in behalf of the King holiday. She urges Rep. Conyers to bring the holiday bill up for a floor vote in the House of Representatives.
March 27, 1979
Mrs. King testifies before Joint Hearings of Congress in support of King Holiday bill.
The Conyers King Holiday bill is defeated in floor vote in U.S. House of Representatives by just 5 votes.
King Center President Coretta Scott King writes to governors, mayors, and chairpersons of city council across the U.S., requesting them to pass resolutions and proclamations commemorating the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and send them to The King Center's Archives. She asks them to organize celebrations and programs of observance.
The King Center calls for and mobilizes a conference to commemorate and serve as cosponsors of the 19th anniversary of the March on Washington. More than 100 organizations participated. King Center mobilizes coalition to lobby for the holiday. Stevie Wonder funds holiday lobbying office and staff based in Washington, D.C.
Mrs. King testifies before Congress in behalf of The King Holiday bill again.
August 27, 1983
King Center convenes the "20th Anniversary March on Washington", supported by more than 750 organizations. More than 500,000 people attend the March at the Lincoln Memorial, and all of the speakers call on the U.S. Senate and President Reagan to pass the King Holiday.
November 3, 1983
President Reagan signs bill establishing the 3rd Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, beginning in 1986.
January 20, 1986
First national King Holiday Observed. By this time 17 states had official King holidays. The King Holiday Commissioners are sworn in by federal district Judge Horace Ward.
August 23, 1994
President Clinton signs the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, expanding the mission of the holiday as a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.
The King holiday is celebrated in U.S. installations and is observed by local groups in more than 100 other nations. Trinidad and other nations have also established a holiday in honor of Dr. King.