The unknown history of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Graphic highlighting the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Graphic highlighting the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Riley Lavine, Staff Writer

This Monday, Jan. 16, commences the important federal holiday that marks the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). While many people acknowledge this impactful day in history, it is essential to understand the journey that it took for this day to get recognized as well as the true reasoning so many schools get off for this day.

The emergence of this holiday wasn’t one that came about quickly– it took 32 years and a lot of campaigning from important historical figures. In 1983 it became a national holiday but, of course, since the US has a history of not recognizing their racist past, it wasn’t accepted as a state holiday from all 50 states until 2000.

Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates MLK’s birthday, its significance goes much deeper. This national holiday is a celebration of civil rights, nonviolence and public service which ties into the legacy of this important historical leader.

The first motion to make King’s birthday a holiday was only four days after King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, but unfortunately like many civil rights movements during that time, it took years to reach the House of Representatives floor and initially fell short by over 100 votes.

The King Center, a nongovernmental organization that guides nonviolent efforts by maintaining King’s legacy, organized a march on Washington as well as a petition to continue the fight for this monumental holiday. Sadly, huge actions such as marches and petitions were some of the only ways for important bills and changes in our government to take place during this transitional time period. Nonetheless, the bill was finally passed in the House in 1983 and began to gain momentum.

After many unnecessary criticizing arguments and speeches by opposing senators, the bill also passed the Senate by 12 votes and was signed by President Ronald Reagan, declaring the day as a national holiday.

Although the holiday was approved by the federal government, many states during the time following the civil rights movement still didn’t support the decision to make this day an official holiday. For example, in 1990 the NFL told Arizona, one of the states who didn’t support the holiday due to ridiculous lingering hostility towards King, that they couldn’t host the Super Bowl until they recognized MLK day as a holiday.

States such as Alabama and Mississippi unjustly tried to switch the narrative of the holiday by also commemorating confederate soldier Robert E. Lee, who was an avid supporter of slavery and racial inferiority, on that same day. This was explicitly done in order to create resistance towards improvements of racial justice in America and to continue the narrative of unfair treatment towards people from different races and backgrounds.

But yet, 40 years later, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is still celebrated every year as a national day of service. This holiday is designed to honor communities around the world and help people learn how to give back and work together to make a difference in the world.

In order to make a change this MLK day, it is crucial to get involved in volunteer programs in the community. MLK day doesn’t just represent the impact and life of an influential historical figure, it represents the importance of community, civil rights and unity for generations to come.

Below are some resources to help people get involved in the community:

Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Cleveland MetroParks 

Ronald McDonald