Is today MLK Day? How Martin Luther King Day began

The annual holiday honours the life of the celebrated civil rights activist

Siobhan Fenton
Monday 17 January 2022 12:16
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Martin Luther King delivers his Dream Speech in Washington DC
Martin Luther King delivers his Dream Speech in Washington DC

When is MLK Day?

Every year Americans celebrate the life of the great pioneer of the US civil rights movement on Martin Luther King Day.

The annual holiday takes place on the third Monday of every January to coincide with MLK’s birthdate of 15 January.

It falls on 18 January this year.

What is MLK Day?

In the US, it is a paid holiday day.

Some people spend the day reading or learning about MLK’s life and achievements.

Others spend the day volunteering with a cause which they feel he would support.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and Washington DC Mayor along with President and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation. participate in a wreath laying at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial during a ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2015

In many states, special events are organised such as an historic walking tour in Harlem, New York, or special lectures and talks about race relations in the US.

Some states offer more colourful events such as carnivals or street parades in Los Angeles.

Activists campaign on Martin Luther King Day in 2015

How did MLK Day start?

The day is the result of decades of campaigning efforts for the civil rights activist's legacy to be remembered and was the first ever national holiday to honour an individual black American.

In 1968, Congress was presented with a petition signed by more than 3 million people backing the holiday.

However, Republicans initially resisted, arguing that they were concerned that MLK had an 'inappropriate' sexual past and ties to communism which they felt the government should not honour.

Barack Obama paints on a wall as part of a community service project for Martin Luther King Day

In 1983, President Reagan signed a bill into law finally granting it as an official holiday.

Some states continued to protest by calling the day by other names or conflating the celebrations with other figures.

Finally, in 2000 South Carolina became the last state to honour it as a paid holiday.

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