Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 18, 1969

When we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is easy to overlook the local efforts to commemorate King’s life in the years before his birthday was first observed as a federal holiday in 1986. Just days after King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Michigan Congressman John Conyers proposed legislation to make King’s birthday a national holiday. By January 1969, nearly 300 cities honored King’s birthday, and organizers gathered millions of signatures in support of the King holiday to send to Congress. While the proposed King holiday legislation stalled in Congress, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey made King’s birthday a state holiday in the mid-1970s. Coretta Scott King (King’s widow) led the campaign for the holiday in the late-1970s and early-1980s with support from Conyers, President Jimmy Carter, and musician Stevie Wonder, whose song of “Happy Birthday” became an anthem for the King holiday effort. Despite opposition by politicians like Senators John P. East and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the campaign was successful, and President Reagan signed the bill making the King birthday a national holiday in 1983. Twenty-seven states and Washington D.C.  observed the first official federal MLK holiday in January 1986. South Carolina and my current home state of Arizona were among the last to recognize the King holiday.  

These four articles are related to the first posthumous celebrations of King’s birthday (he would have turned forty in 1969), and highlight attempts to pass state MLK holiday legislation in Pennsylvania, name a school after King in Pittsburgh, and honor King’s life and legacy.  

Philadelphia Tribune: “Mayor Backs Martin Luther King Holiday Plan,” January 18, 1969 (click to view PDF)

Pittsburgh Courier: “Rename Fifth Avenue High School MLK?,” January 18, 1969 (PDF)

NY Amsterdam News: “Dr. MLK’s Birthday Hailed at Salvation Army Service,” January 18, 1969 (PDF)

NY Amsterdam News: “MLK Day” editorial, January 18, 1969 (PDF)

For more on the history of the MLK holiday, see Time and the King Center

This page has paths:

This page references: