Martin Luther King Jr. Day Fast Facts

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Here’s a look at Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday that falls on the third Monday in January.

January 15, 2024 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

King’s actual birthday was on January 15.

April 8, 1968 – Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduces legislation for a federal holiday to commemorate King, just four days after his assassination.

January 15, 1969 – The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta sponsors and observes the first annual celebration of King’s birthday.

April 1971 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) presents to Congress petitions containing three million signatures in support of the holiday. Congress does not act.

1973 Illinois is the first state to adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday.

November 4, 1978The National Council of Churches urges Congress to enact the holiday.

1979 Coretta Scott King speaks before Congress and joint hearings of Congress in a campaign to pass a holiday bill. A petition for the bill receives 300,000 signatures, and President Jimmy Carter supports passage of a bill.

November 1979 The House fails to pass Conyers’ King Holiday bill by five votes.

1982 – Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder bring the speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, petitions with more than six million signatures in favor of a holiday.

1983Congress passes and President Ronald Reagan signs legislation creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) attempt to block the bill’s passing.

January 20, 1986First national celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday takes place.

January 16, 1989 The King holiday is legal in 44 states.

1994 Coretta Scott King goes before Congress and quotes King from his 1968 sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” in which he said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” She requests that the holiday be an official national day of humanitarian service.

1994Congress designates the holiday as a national day of service through the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act.

1999 New Hampshire becomes the last state to adopt a holiday honoring King.

January 17, 2011 – Marks the 25th anniversary of the holiday.

December 15, 2021 – The family of King calls for “no celebration” of MLK Day without the passage of voting rights legislation.


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