Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States holiday commemorating the birth Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday is observed each January on the third Monday of the month. King was a civil rights leader who stressed nonviolence as a way to protest racial discrimination. He was instrumental in working to resolve civil and human rights issues.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, GA, and graduated from Morehouse College in 1948. He went on to graduate from two other universities -- Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951 and Boston University in 1955. In 1954, he became a minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, AL and led a black boycott of segregated city buses between the years 1955 and 1956. His efforts led to the desegregation of Montgomery buses in 1956, and ultimately led to his becoming an influential civil rights leader in the U.S.
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Throughout his life as a civil rights leader, King organized peaceful protests and was arrested on many occasions despite his nonviolent methods. In 1963, he led the historic March on Washington, where 200,000 people gathered in order to bring attention to the need for civil rights, desegregated schools, an end to racial discrimination, and other civil rights issues. It was one of the largest demonstrations Washington D.C. had ever witnessed and the first to receive widespread media attention. The following year in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Just four years later, on 4 April 1968, King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
Congressman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, introduced legislation for a holiday celebrating King four days after King's assassination. Unfortunately, the bill was stalled. As a result, six million people signed a petition submitted to congress in support of the bill. Each legislative session, Conyers and Representative Shirley Chisholm, a New York Democrat, resubmitted legislation to make King's birthday a national holiday. In 1982 and 1983 concerned citizens marched in Washington, placing more pressure on the U.S. government to formally recognize the contributions of this powerful civil rights figure.
In 1983, President Reagan signed the bill into a law. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day officially became a federal holiday in 1986. Once King's birthday became an official holiday, some states rejected the idea of celebrating the special day, saying King did not deserve his own holiday.
They felt that the entire civil rights movement should be honored, not just one person. Some Southern states used the day to celebrate the lives of several Civil War Confederate generals instead of paying tribute to the life of an important civil rights leader. The state of Arizona did not formally recognize the holiday until 1992, after tourists boycotted the state.