Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday celebrated annually, honoring the late Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. The holiday is observed each January on the third Monday, near the day of his actual birth, January 15. Approximately 30% of non-federal employers give workers the holiday off (updated stat and link 1/16/2012).
Although King was assassinated in 1968, the holiday was not officially introduced until 1983. The campaign to honor this leader in nonviolent civil rights activism started not long after his death. Michigan Representative, John Conyers introduced the bill to Congress that would make King’s birthday a federal holiday. The bill was voted on by the House of Representatives in 1979; however it lacked the number of votes needed to pass by five. Opponents believed a paid holiday for government employees would be too pricey and many believed the holiday would be unprecedented given that King never held a public office, unlike those honored with a federal holiday before him.
The King Center turned to the general public and corporate and artistic communities for support in moving forward with a day to honor King. It was on November 2, 1983 when President, Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating the federal holiday. The holiday was officially observed in 1986, but only celebrated in the District of Columbia and 27 states. Other states refused to accept the holiday. For example, in the state of Arizona that same year, a holiday had been declared by Governor Bruce Babbitt after a bill to create the holiday failed to pass in the Arizona legislature. In 1987, Governor Evan Mecham withdrew the holiday, believing that it was illegally established. New legislation finally passed in 1989, but opponents were successful in mandating a ballot initiative which resulted in a rejection by Arizona voters in 1990. In response, rap group, Public Enemy created their song, “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” helping bring attention to the issue. The holiday was finally approved by Arizona voters in 1992.
Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized nationwide.
The aforementioned Public Enemy video. WARNING: The video generated some controversy for its apparent advocation of the assassination of Gov. Mecham. Lawffice Space does not condone violence.
Public Enemy - By the Time I Get to Arizona