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From Dream to Reality: How MLK Day Became A Federal Holiday

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hey bestie, it’s your Internet BFF, Kaylannk here! Let’s talk the history of MLK day. 

Every third Monday of January, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day of service to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who dedicated his life to fighting for racial justice and equality. 

Have you, ever, wondered how this holiday came to be? Today, we are going to uncover the captivating story of how the holiday transformed from a dream to reality.



From Tragedy to Movement: On April 8, 1968, just four days after the assassination of Dr. King, Congressman John Conyers, Jr.  introduced legislation that proposed the birthday of Dr. King to be observed as a national holiday. Public support of this effort caused petitions to be circulated and rallies to be held to call for federal recognition of King’s contributions.

A Tide of Persistence: The journey to a national holiday was far from smooth. Despite the overwhelming public sentiment, the national holiday was faced by opposition within the House of Representative and Senate (whose vote had an impact on whether this holiday was signed into law). Those who were opposed to making MLK Day a holiday argued the cost of the holiday, the day on which the holiday would be observed, and the reason why Dr. King should not be granted a holiday as their reasons the holiday should go into law. Dr. King’s supporters, led by his wife Coretta Scott King and civil rights organizations, persisted.

A Turning Point: In 1983, a pivotal moment happened. Congressman John Conyers, teamed up with other Congress members to present a revised holiday proposal. This new version addressed concerns about cost and designated the holiday for the third Monday in January.

A Dream Realized: After 15 years of tireless efforts by his wife Coretta Scott King, activists, lawmakers, and everyday citizens, the King holiday bill finally reached a vote in Congress. On November 2, 1983, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law, establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday.


A Day of Remembrance and Action: On August 23, 1994, former U.S. President Clinton signed into law the King Holiday and Service Act. The King Holiday and Service Act was legislation proposed and sponsored by Congressman John Lewis that supported Lewis’ initiative that the MLK holiday was “a day on, not a day off” where people are encouraged to give back to their community to observe the holiday. Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day to volunteer, engage in community service, and honor Dr. King’s legacy through active engagement.

Sources Used To Write This Article:

  1. National Museum of African American History & Culture
  2. Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
  3. Stanford University – The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Remember, you can make a difference any and every day. 

Written with lots of care, 


Your Internet BFF

P.S. Share where you volunteered on MLK Day in the comments.


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