In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared that the third Monday of each year was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Chosen because it is close to Dr. King’s birthday, January 15 it is one of only three federal holidays that are celebrated in the United States in honor of an individual person. The first observation of MLK Jr. Day was in 1986 but it wasn’t fully embraced by all 50 states until 2000.
It wasn’t easy making MLK Day a federal holiday as it met opposition at every turn. Many politicians felt that it would cost too much to give government employees an additional paid day off.
Originally founded to focus on contract negotiations by labor unions, it was Representative John Conyers from Michigan who first introduced the bill in Congress shortly after Dr. King’s death. It was only five votes short of passing in the House of Representatives. The King Center rallied the corporate world and general public and collected six million signatures on a petition to Congress to pass the law.
In January 2009, President-elect Barack Obama put out a call to action for everyone to participate in Martin Luther King Jr. Day by volunteering their services where needed. He declared January 19th King Day of Service in honor of the slain hero. The next celebration of MLK Jr. Day is January 18, 2010.