Martin Luther King was one of the most important civil rights leaders in the history of the USA. On Martin Luther King Day, people celebrate his achievements, particularly his success in fighting for racial equality. The day is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year.
Who Was Martin Luther King?
Martin Luther King, Jr. was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the United States. King was a Baptist minister, but became passionate about civil rights early in his life. He was involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, for example, and committed to a number of equality causes throughout his lifetime.
King’s most famous speech has become known as the “I have a dream” speech, but this was just a small part of his campaigning to end racial inequality and segregation in the United States. His ability to rouse emotions and response through speech, however, was one of his biggest strengths.
King always advocated non-violent protests. For this reason, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and was the youngest person to be bestowed with this honor. King was assassinated in 1968, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
History of Martin Luther King Day
In 1979, state senator Edward Brooke and US Representative John Conyers proposed that King’s birthday should be a national holiday. This initial vote failed by five votes, but the idea continued to be discussed by both Democrats and Republicans.
Today, it’s surprising to think that Congress voted against forming a holiday to celebrate King’s achievements. The two main reasons were the cost of paying employees for a holiday, and the idea that people who’d never held office shouldn’t have holidays in their honor. Other senators also argued that King didn’t achieve enough to be considered for such an important honor.
It wasn’t until 1983 that legislation was formalized to create a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Even then, some States refused to fully observe the holiday. It took until the year 2000 for all 50 states to formerly recognize the holiday.
In 1994 the day was designated as a “national day of service.” This differs from other holidays, as the organizers of Martin Luther King Day are keen to stress that it’s a “day on, not a day off.” As of 2007, around a third of employers give their employees the day off on Martin Luther King Day to pursue other forms of service.