Martin Luther King Day

MLK inspired millions of people in his lifetime and continues to inspire us to this day. Across the globe, activists look to King for inspiration and courage. Modern movements for racial equality and justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, are extensions of the work that he started. Each year on the third Monday of January we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and reflect on the work that still needs to be done for racial equality. This January 17th, make the holiday more than just a day off and take time to reflect and take action on civil rights issues across the globe.

The Facts

The concept of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions. After King’s death, U.S. Representative John Conyers and U.S. Senator Edward Brooke introduced a bill in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. 

The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979; but, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage. Two of the main arguments mentioned were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition, as King never held public office. (At the time, only two other figures had national holidays honoring them: George Washington and Christopher Columbus.)

Soon after, the King Center looked for support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy skyrocketed when musician Stevie Wonder released the single ‘Happy Birthday’ to popularize King’s birthday in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. 

President Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. But on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall, to create a federal holiday honoring King. The bill was passed by the Senate with a count of 78 to 22, and the House of Representatives by 338 to 90. 

The holiday was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. It’s observed on the third Monday of January rather than directly on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday because it follows the guidelines of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

On August 28, 1963, King gave his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the day that more than 250,000 demonstrators participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The Selma March, also referred to as the Selma to Montgomery March, was a political march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, occurring from March 21 to 25 in 1965. Led by Martin Luther King, Jr. The march was the culminating event of several emotional weeks during which demonstrators twice attempted to march but were stopped. 25,000 people participated in the roughly 50-mile march. These events became a landmark in the American civil rights movements and directly led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After delivering his final speech, ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,’ in Memphis the day before, King was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

Martin Luther King’s contributions to racial justice for Black Americans were revolutionary. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or MLK Day, schools and offices are closed, but people fully participate in remembering and honoring everything King has accomplished. His values and historical place in American history are discussed and advocated to educate communities and coming generations on the importance of equality and King’s influence. 

How to Observe MLK day

  1. Take the time to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. in depth. Read his works as well as those of his family to learn more about this remarkable man and the stories as he told them. 
  2. Make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day more than just a day off. Take time to both understand and support civil rights and the issues facing communities of color. MLK and his contemporaries did a lot for the advancement of civil rights, but there is still much to be done.
  3. Creating dialogue and having discussions about racial injustice is important. Through conversation we can educate each other, share experiences, and work to create a brighter future.


The civil rights leader was given the name Michael King Jr at birth — later, his father changed his own name as well as of his son to Martin Luther, after the Protestant Reformation leader.

King skipped grades 9 and 12 and enrolled at Morehouse College at the age of 15 in 1944.

‘I Have a Dream’ was not MLK’s first speech. Six years before his iconic speech at Lincoln Memorial, King spoke during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.

Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law which made Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. This is considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.

Additional Resources


Zoom Backgrounds
Virtual backgrounds are one of the easiest ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Day! Just replace your normal backdrop with one that celebrates! Get your friends and co-workers to share and join in on the celebration of MLK Day too!

Right-click the image then save as to your computer. Open your Zoom application and update your background to the file you saved from this page.

Social Media

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      • EXAMPLE WORDS:  Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Today I am celebrating MLK, and the impact he had on millions through his fight against racial injustices and how he advocated for individuals of color. I will be learning more about Martin Luther King Jr. and taking time to reflect and take action about the civil rights issues still happening across the globe. Learn more with me by checking out the link below!

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