Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated on Monday, January 20th this year. Also commonly called Martin Luther King Day, or MLK Day for short, this federal and state holiday celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders. During the turbulent 1960’s that witnessed great civil and social unrest, Dr. King adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods to win civil rights for African Americans. Dr. King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. That speech is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech, as one of the best examples in the history of American oratory.
Despite Dr. King’s focus on non-violence in all his pursuits, tragically on the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
Though Dr. King was born on January 15th, MLK Day is held on the third Monday in January each year. It was President Ronald Regan who signed the law in 1983 that made Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. However it wasn’t first observed as a holiday until 1986.
Many states were reluctant to accept MLK Day and even those who voted in the designation of the holiday didn’t like the fact that it was a national holiday for a private citizen. Many states observed the holiday only under different designations, such as Civil Rights Day, and sometimes in connection with other holidays. However, by 2000, all 50 U.S. states recognized MLK Day as a holiday.
Although today both a federal and state holiday in all 50 states, MLK Day is not observed as a paid holiday by a majority of private employers. Benefit surveys report that between 27-38% of U.S. private employers observe the day as a paid holiday. However, most companies not observing this holiday typically allow employees to use either vacation, PTO or an unpaid personal leave day if they are requesting this date as time off.
No matter what you’re doing on January 21st this year, and no matter what race, color or creed you are, please take a few moments to consider the achievements of a man who tirelessly protested to end racial discrimination in federal and state law and helped improve our society.