Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in the United States, holiday (third Monday in January) honoring the achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. A Baptist minister who advocated the use of nonviolent means to end racial segregation, he first came to national prominence during a bus boycott by African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. He founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 and led the 1963 March on Washington. The most influential of African American civil rights leaders during the 1960s, he was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and employment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968. This year, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is celebrated on Monday, January 15, 2024.

Almost immediately after King’s death, there were calls for a national holiday in his honor. Beginning in 1970, a number of states and cities made his birthday, January 15, a holiday. Although legislation for a federal holiday was introduced in Congress as early as 1968, there was sufficient opposition, on racial and political grounds, to block its passage. In 1983 legislation making the third Monday in January a federal holiday finally was passed, and the first observance nationwide was in 1986. The day is usually celebrated with marches and parades and with speeches by civil rights and political leaders.








  • Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday? Not only is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday, but it is also the first holiday honoring an African American.
  • Why is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day known as a Day of Service? Days of Service help to raise awareness, mobilize volunteers, and provide individuals with an opportunity to engage and build new connections, and help nonprofits find support for their programs. MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”
  • What happened on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrates Dr. King’s life and achievements as an influential American civil rights leader. The holiday is set on the Monday nearest his birthday.




The concept of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions. After King’s death, U.S. Representative John Conyers and U.S. Senator Edward Brooke introduced a bill in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979; however, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage. Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition, as King never held public office. At the time, only two other figures had national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.

Soon after, the King Center looked for support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released the single ‘Happy Birthday’ to popularize the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition for Congress to pass the law and is considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.

President Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall, to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill had passed the Senate by a count of 78 to 22, and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. It’s observed on the third Monday of January rather than directly on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday because it follows the guidelines of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.




  • He worked to advance civil rights. The words, leadership, time, and energy King devoted to civil rights helped end segregation in the United States and worked to eliminate unfair practices throughout the nation that negatively affected the Black community. He helped organize rallies, gave speeches across the country, and mobilized thousands of people to help end racial injustice.
  • He inspires us. MLK inspired millions of people in his lifetime and continues to inspire us to this day. Across the globe, activists look to King for inspiration and courage. Modern movements for racial equality and justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, are extensions of the work that he started.
  • He promoted civil disobedience. King's tactics and manner of protest were largely that of civil disobedience, including sit-ins, marches, and disregard for unjust laws. Many of us follow his example today when protesting and adopt the tactic of civil disobedience.




  • Learn MLK's full history and narrative. Take the time to learn more about MLK in depth. Read his works as well as those of his family to learn more about this remarkable man and the stories as he told them.
  • Support the Black community and racial justice. Make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day more than just a day off. Take time to both understand and support civil rights and the issues facing communities of color. MLK and his contemporaries did a lot for the advancement of civil rights, but there is still much to be done.
  • Have a conversation. Creating dialogue and having discussions about racial injustice is important. Through conversation we educate each other, share experiences, and work to create a brighter future.






Recommended Books




  • 6,000,000 Signatures - Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. A petition only needs 150 signatures in order to be searchable within the White House database. To cross the second threshold and require a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days. Stevie Wonder helped to achieve this feat by releasing his iconic single ‘Happy Birthday,’ raising awareness of the fact that there should be a day commemorating Dr. King’s life and questioning why people in power would be opposed to celebrating someone fighting for peace and justice.
  • 250,000 March on Washington - During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The demonstration was attended by more than 250,000 people. Though many people are familiar with the famous speech, very few know that the iconic “I have a dream” portion was entirely improvised. If you watch the video of King giving the speech, you’ll notice for the first 2–3 minutes, he’s reading the speech prepared for him. But at some point, King pauses. Within this pause, the gospel singer and King’s good friend Mahalia Jackson yells out, “Tell’em about the dream!” At this moment, Reverend King took his crowd to church, as he preached to a diverse crowd of supporters his dream for a better and non-violent future.
  • 25,000 March from Selma - The Selma March, also referred to as the Selma to Montgomery March, was a political march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, occurring from March 21 to 25 in 1965. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the march was the culminating event of several emotional weeks during which demonstrators twice attempted to march but were stopped, once violently, by local police. 25,000 people participated in the roughly 50-mile march. These events became a landmark in the American civil rights movements and directly led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.




  • January 15, 1929 - Birth of a King - Martin Luther King, Jr. is born in Atlanta, GA.
  • May 17, 1957 - The King's Speech - King makes his first address to the nation, 'Give Us the Ballot,' at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
  • August 28, 1963 - The Dream - King delivers his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the day that more than 200,000 demonstrators participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • December 10, 1964 - The Ultimate Prize - King wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • April 14, 1968 - Tragedy Strikes - After delivering his final speech, 'I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,' in Memphis the day before, King is shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
  • 1980 - Stevie Wonder Calls for Action - Stevie Wonder releases 'Happy Birthday,' a song in which he not only celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday but also laments the fact that anyone would oppose the idea of a Dr. King holiday.
  • 1986 - The First Day - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed for the very first time.
  • 2000 - Unity - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is observed by all 50 states for the first time.




Martin Luther King’s unparalleled contributions to racial justice for Black Americans have been revolutionary. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or MLK Day, schools and offices are closed, but people fully participate in remembering and honoring everything King has accomplished. His values and historical place in American history are discussed and advocated to educate communities and coming generations on the importance of equality and King’s influence. Movies and documentaries on his life are shown, and businesses and organizations run by and for the Black community are shown some support.



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