Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King’s birthday, 15 January. The earliest Monday for this holiday is 15 January and the latest is 21 January.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 until his death in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, tactics his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi helped inspire.
King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and in 1957 became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some employers give their employees the day off, although this observance is most popular among nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers. Additionally, many schools and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but may hold seminars or celebrations of King’s message.
The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of King. The federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on 23 August 1994. Since 1996, Wofford’s former state office director, Todd Bernstein, has been directing the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service, the largest event in the nation honoring King.
If you do not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, you could still share the spirit by volunteering at your nearest charity organizations, mosques, churches, synagogues, animal shelter, local social providers, you name it!
How about you? Tell us your favorite Martin Luther King Jr. Day activity, or share your most memorable Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration!