Just four days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assasination in 1968, congressman John Conyers introduced the first motion to create Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day takes place on January 20th, around the time of King’s birthday that is on the 15th. We have this federal holiday because of people like Congressman John Conyers and Stevie Wonder who stepped up to the plate of creating King’s day.
According to the National Constitution Center, it was very difficult creating the federal holiday. In their article How Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday Became a Holiday they stated, “It wasn’t an easy task for holiday supporters, who had to push hard in Congress to get the federal holiday created.”
With the help of Wonder releasing his song Happy Birthday and many others, King’s birthday was approved as a federal holiday in 1983. Wonder’s song spoke about how wrong it was to not have Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying, “You know it doesn’t make much sense, there ought to be a law against, anyone who takes offense at a day in your celebration.” He went on to say, “I just never understood, how a man who died for good, could not have a day that would be set aside for his recognition.” However, it was not until 2000 that all states recognized King’s birthday as a government holiday. This was because of the struggle to get individual Tstates to recognize it as a holiday; the National Constitution Center mentioned that there was strong resistance from Arizona.
The NFL threatened to move the 1993 super bowl from Tempe, Arizona if the King holiday was defeated at the polls, which after a two-part voter referendum, lost. The NFL held their ground and took the super bowl to Southern California, costing Arizona 500 million dollars in revenue.
The next time you and your family celebrate Martin Luther King, don’t take for granted the hard work people like Conyers and Wonder contributed to earn the human rights activist a day in his honor.