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A Little History Lesson About Martin Luther King Day [VIDEO]


Not only is it Inauguration Day for our U.S. President, but today (Jan. 21)  marks the 27th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law in 1983 creating the federal holiday, but it wasn’t first celebrated until 1986.

Trying to put together Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t a easy process. A bill introduced after King’s death didn’t get anywhere. Another attempt in the late 1970s failed, failing short of approval in the House of Representatives by just five votes. But supporters didn’t give up, and instead launched a public campaign calling for the creation of MLK Day.  It was musical artist Stevie Wonder who got in on the campaign, releasing “Happy Birthday.” The  song wasn’t the traditional “Happy Birthday,” song but an ode to King and essentially a public shaming of anyone against MLK Day. The movement galvanized Americans, some 6 million of who signed a petition in support of creating MLK Day. And remember, this was well before the Internet was able to make huge petitions a simple process.

Getting all 50 dates on board took until 2000. Although several states, including Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts, celebrated King before the federal holiday was created, only 27 and the District of Columbia recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day after the federal law. Arizona paid for the state’s holdout on the holiday. Super Bowl 27 was scheduled to take place at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. But when voters in 1990 rejected creating a Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, the National Football League moved the game to Pasadena, California. South Carolina was the last state holdout, finally recognizing King Day in 2000.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has turned into a day for volunteerism — to honor King’s legacy. Congress pushed for this change in 1994 by designating MLK Day as a national day of service. Volunteer projects take place in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

MLK Day always takes place the third Monday in January.

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