Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American holiday honoring one of the most influential and iconic leaders of the civil rights movement. It is celebrated each year on the third Monday of January, near his birthday of January 15th.
King was born in 1929. His given name was Michael, but later he had it changed to Martin. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia attending segregated public schools.
In 1964, after moving to the forefront of the American civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish equal rights for African Americans. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The site is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum.
After more than ten years of rejection and despite continued harsh opposition, including an effort to have the holiday changed to “National Civil Rights Day”, congress finally passed the bill in 1983. President Ronald Regan, in his proclamation speech, defended King’s worthiness of the honor: “This year marks the first observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday. It is a time for rejoicing and reflecting. We rejoice because, in his short life, Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. . .. He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the battle. It was three years, in 1986, before the federal government actually began to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Some areas of the south continued to protest by holding Confederate celebrations on the same day. It wasn’t until the 90’s that MLK day was accepted and celebrated all over the country. New Hampshire was the final state to adopt it as a paid holiday in 1999.