The campaign to a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s was a struggle of unending obstacles. Congressman John Conyers (D–MI) initially introduced a bill calling for a national holiday just four days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
Although King dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for civil rights in the United States, there was little to no support for a national holiday in Congress. Undeterred, Conyers filed the same bill year after year as it slowly gained support.
The bill for the King National Holiday sat stalled for fifteen years despite efforts by the Congressional Black Caucus, the King Center and petitions signed by millions of supporters to move it along. When the bill advanced out of committee with support from the Carter administration in November 1979, it was defeated by five votes in the House of Representatives. This obstacle rejuvenated the campaign! Stevie Wonder composed a song to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.
The 20th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom garnered support for the holiday! President Reagan signed the bill on November 3, 1983 marking the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day beginning in 1986. By the time, King was honored with a national holiday seventeen states had enacted a state holiday honoring him.