12019-03-12T23:56:49+00:00Stanford University Pressaf84c3e11fe030c51c61bbd190fa82a3a1a1282419gallerypublished2019-10-14T20:04:50+00:00Production Editor7a3dce28be212b1ba5b4a7a50f3d6a8d76b58c74When 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.