November 2, 1983:
On this day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day officially became an American holiday used to commemorate his birthday and to celebrate his life and legacy.
On Nov. 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday, effective Jan. 20, 1986. As a result of this bill, Americans commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday on the third Monday in January, but few Americans are aware of the history of Martin Luther King Day and the long battle to convince Congress to establish this holiday in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On January 15, the entire nation pauses in remembrance of a civil rights hero. At least, that’s the point of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday that takes place on the third Monday of each January. MLK day was designed to honor the activist and minister assassinated in 1968, whose accomplishments have continued to inspire generations of Americans.
But though the holiday now graces the United States’ federal calendar and affects countless offices, schools, businesses, and other public and private spaces, it wasn’t always observed. The fight for a holiday in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s honor was an epic struggle in and of itself—and it continues to face resistance today in the form of competing holidays to leaders of the Confederacy.
King was the first modern private citizen to be honored with a federal holiday, and for many familiar with his non-violent leadership of the civil rights movement, it made sense to celebrate him.