History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Angelique Kokal, Reporter

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was promoted as a holiday in 1979 by U.S. Senator Edward Brooke and U.S. Representative John Conyers. They introduced a bill in Congress to turn King’s birthday into a national holiday. When the bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, it fell five votes short of the amount required.

Soon after, musician Stevie Wonder released a single “Happy Birthday” in 1980 and hosted the Rally For Peace Press Conference in 1981, to support the campaign. About six million signatures were signed and collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law.

Opposition towards the holiday was led by Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East. They also questioned whether or not King was really important enough to create a holiday dedicated to him. Helms then led a filibuster against the bill on Oct. 3, 1983; he submitted a 300-page paper to the Senate accusing King of making associations with communists. Soon after, NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan proclaimed the paper as a “packet of filth,” crushing it on the floor.

President Ronald Reagan initially opposed the holiday expressing concerns for the cost. On November 2, 1983, he signed a bill to create a federal holiday honoring King, which had been proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana. The bill then passed the House of Representatives, and on January 20, 1986, the holiday was observed for the first time.