The nation is reflecting on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this third Monday of January — the day set aside to honor the birth of the late civil rights leader.
While the holiday was created in 1983 after the signing of legislation by President Ronald Reagan, the movement to honor Dr. King’s birthday actually began 15 years earlier, just four days after his assassination on April 4th, 1968. It was then that former Democratic Michigan Representative John Conyers took the initiative to submit the first legislation to propose King’s birthday as a national holiday. After years of petitioning and mounting public pressure, the House of Representatives finally approved the holiday legislation in August 1983, and President Reagan signed it into law on November 2nd of that year.
Dr. King is the only American besides George Washington to have a national holiday designated for his birthday.
The first federal MLK holiday went into effect on January 20th, 1986, though several states were still resistant to the idea. In 1992, after a threatened tourist boycott, voters in the state of Arizona, one of the last states to adopt the MLK holiday, approved the holiday. And, in 1999, the state of New Hampshire became the last state to accept the holiday, changing its Civil Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.