The King Holiday: A Chronology
April 8, 1968 – Four
days after Dr. King is assassinated, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI)
introduces first legislation providing for a Martin Luther King, Jr.
June 26, 1968
– The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center is founded in Atlanta. The
mission is to establish a living memorial to Dr. King, to preserve his
papers and promote his teachings. Shortly after, King Center Founder Coretta
Scott King, directs the small staff to being planning for the first annual
observance of Dr. King’s birthday.
January 15, 1969
– The King Center sponsors the first annual observance of Dr. King’s
birthday with an ecumenical service and other events and calls for
nation-wide commemorations of Dr. King’s birthday. This observance becomes
the model for subsequent annual commemorations of Dr. King’s birthday
nation-wide, setting the tone of celebration of Dr. King’s life, education
in his teachings and nonviolent action to carry forward his unfinished
– Petitions gathered by SCLC bearing 3 million signatures in support of King
Holiday are presented to Congress. But Congress takes no action to move
holiday legislation forward.
– First state King Holiday bill (sponsored by then
Assemblyman Harold Washington) signed into law in Illinois.
– Massachusetts, Connecticut enact statewide King Holidays.
– New Jersey State Supreme Court rules that state must provide a paid
holiday in honor of Dr. King in accordance with the state government’s labor
contract with the New Jersey State Employees Association.
November 4, 1978
– National Council of Churches calls on Congress to pass King Holiday.
February 19, 1979
– Coretta Scott King testifies before the Senate Judiciary
Committee hearings in behalf of the King holiday. She urges Rep. Conyers to
bring the holiday bill up for a floor vote in the House of Representatives.
March 27, 1979
– Mrs. King testifies before Joint Hearings of Congress in support of King
– Mrs. King directs King Center staff to begin intensive
organizing of a nation-wide citizens lobby for a national Martin Luther
King, Jr. Holiday. King Center launches new nation-wide King Holiday
petition campaign, which is signed by more than 300,000 before end of year.
President Carter calls on Congress to pass national King Holiday. The King
Holiday bill finally begins to move through Congressional committees.
– The Conyers King Holiday bill is defeated in floor vote in U.S. House of
Representatives by just 5 votes.
– Stevie Wonder releases “Happy Birthday,” a song celebrating Dr. King and
urging a holiday in his honor. It becomes a hit and a rallying cry for the
May 2, 1980
- Coretta Scott King testifies in U.S. House of Representative in support of
establishing a National Historic Site in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
September 11, 1980
– Mrs. King testifies in U.S. Senate in support of establishing a National
Historic Site in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
– King Center President Coretta Scott King writes to governors, mayors,
chairpersons of city council across the U.S., requesting them to pass
resolutions and proclamations commemorating the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s
birthday and send them to The King Center’s Archives. She asks them to
organize celebrations and programs of observance.
February 23, 1982
– Mrs. King testifies in support of the Holiday before the Subcommittee on
Census and Population of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil
– The King Center calls for and mobilizes a conference to commemorate the 19th
anniversary of the March on Washington. More than 100 organizations serve as
cosponsors. The King Center mobilizes a coalition to lobby for the holiday.
Stevie Wonder funds holiday lobbying office and staff based in Washington,
– Mrs. King and Stevie Wonder present King Center petitions bearing more
than 6 million signatures in support of King holiday to Tip O’Neil, Speaker
of the U.S. House of Representatives.
– Mrs. King testifies before Congress in behalf of The King Holiday bill
– The House of Representatives passes King Holiday Bill, providing for the
King Holiday to be observed on the third Monday in January. The bill, which
is sponsored by Reps. Katie Hall (D.-IN) and Jack Kemp (R-NY), passes by a
vote of 338 to 90.
August 27, 1983
– King Center convenes the “20th Anniversary March on
Washington,” supported by more than 750 organizations. More than 500,000
people attend the March at the Lincoln Memorial, and all of the speakers
call on the U.S. Senate and President Reagan to pass the King Holiday.
October 19, 1983
- Holiday Bill sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) passes U.S.
Senate by a vote of 78-22.
November 3, 1983
- President Reagan signs bill establishing the 3rd Monday of
every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, beginning in
– King Center develops legislative
proposal to establish the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission.
Mrs. King meets with leadership of the House and Senate and appeals to
Congress to legislate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday
Commission. The legislation passes Congress by a voice vote.
August 27, 1984
– President Reagan signs legislation providing for the Martin Luther King,
Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, to last for a term of five years, with an
option to renew for another 5 years.
– First meeting of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal
Holiday Commission. Coretta Scott King is unanimously elected
January 20, 1986
- First national King Holiday Observed. By this time 17 states had official
King holidays. The King Holiday Commissioners are sworn in by federal
district Judge Horace Ward.
January 16, 1989
– As a result of leadership of the King Holiday Commission, the number of
states which enacted a MLK holiday grows to 44.
– The United Auto Workers negotiate contracts with the big three auto
companies requiring a paid holiday for all their employees.
January 15, 1990
– The Wall St. Journal Reports that only 18 % of 317 corporate
employers surveyed by the Bureau of National Affairs provide a paid King
November 3, 1992
– After a coalition of citizens for an Arizona King Holiday launches
successful protest and boycott campaigns, the people of Arizona pass
referendum establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. state holiday.
January , 1993
– Arizona observes first statewide King holiday, leaving only New Hampshire
without a state holiday in honor of Dr. King.
– Citing Dr. King’s statement that “Everybody can be great
because everybody can serve,” Coretta Scott King testifies
before congress in support of making the King Holiday an official national
day of humanitarian service.
August 23, 1994
– President Clinton signs the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday and
Service Act, expanding the mission of the holiday as a day of community
service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.
– Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission concludes mission,
responsibility for coordinating
nationwide holiday programs and activities to The King Center
A Bureau of National Affairs survey of 458 employers found
that 26 percent provide a paid holiday for their workers on the King Holiday.
The survey found that 33 percent of firms with union contracts
provided the paid King Holiday, compared to 22 percent of nonunion shops.
June 7, 1999
– Governor Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire signs the King Holiday legislation
into law, completing enactment of holiday in all states.
October 29, 1999
– U.S. Senate unanimously passes legislation requiring federal institutions
to fly the U.S. flag on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.
– The King Center’s National Holiday Advisory Committee is established to
promote the holiday throughout the 50 states. Each governor of the 50 states
is asked to appoint two representatives per state to coordinate celebrations
in their states.
– The King holiday is celebrated in U.S. installations and is observed by
local groups in more than 100 other nations. Trinidad and other nations have
also established a holiday in honor of Dr. King.