Martin Luther King Day or Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is a day to commemorate the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was an American Civil Rights activist and humanitarian.
It is observed on the 3rd Monday of the month of January each year. King’s birthday is on January 15th, 1929, but under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the day is commemorated as stated above to regularize floating holidays. King is known for being a non-violent activist who championed civil rights. He always protested against the racial discriminations that existed in the federal and state laws of the land. After King was assassinated in 1968 there began a campaign for a federal holiday to honor King.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan, the then President of the United States, signed it into a law. But the day was first observed three years later. Initially there was some resistance from few States who wanted to either rename it or club it with some other observance. Finally in the year 2000, Martin Luther King Day was observed together in all the fifty States of the United States of America.
Soon after the assassination of King, the Labor Unions started to negotiate contracts to promote a day in honor of King. A Bill was introduced in the Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday by Senator Edward Brooke (Massachusetts Republican) and US Representative John Conyers (Michigan Democrat). The Bill was first produced for voting in the US House of Representatives in 1979. However, the Bill was short of five votes required for passage. The argument that was put forward by those opposing the Bill was that King never held any public office, and honoring a private citizen would contradict the longstanding tradition of the country. Also a paid federal holiday would prove to be very expensive with the passage of time.
The King Center then started to build up support from the corporate community and the citizens at large. In 1980 the campaign gained momentum when musician Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday”. A Rally for Peace Press Conference was held in 1981. Six million signatures were collected. Finally, in 1983, the Bill was passed by President Ronald Reagan. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush made King’s wife Coretta Scott King the member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to oversee the observance of the occasion.
Observances in the United States:
Martin Luther King Day is upheld to promote the equal rights of all Americans, irrespective of racial background or creed for King, Jr. worked relentlessly against racial segregation and acts of racism. Some educational institutions opt to remain closed on this day, while others stay open to teach the students about the life, works and principles of King, Jr. Non-essential Government departments however do not function on this day. No such regulation is applicable in case of private companies, retail stores or restaurants. Public transportation system may run a little erratic though. Off late there has been a trend from the Federal Government’s side to encourage Americans to work as volunteers in citizen action groups on this day by means of legislation.
Observances outside the United States:
One country where Martin Luther King Day is celebrated with the same zest as in the United States is Japan. In the city of Hiroshima, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba hosts a special banquet in the honor of the day at the mayor’s office. The aim is to call for peace in keeping with King’s principle of human rights.
In the city of Toronto, Canada, Martin Luther King Day has been officially recognized although it is not a paid holiday and all services and business operate in full swing.
In 1984, Martin Luther King Day was honored by Mrs. Aura Herzog, wife of Israel’s then-President Chaim Herzog. During the visit of Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff to Israel, Mrs Herzog mentioned in her speech that Israel has a national forest in the name of Dr. King to honor the fact that Israel and Dr. King share similar ideologies and dreams.
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