Martin Luther King's Birthday timeline
President Reagan signed the holiday into law, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
King never stopped spreading his message of non-violent protest against racial injustice. But there were also people who wanted him silenced. King was attacked more than once during public appearances, as well as arrested during demonstrations. An assassin's bullet fatally wounded King as he stood on a Memphis hotel balcony in 1968.
Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery city bus. That night, E.D. Nixon, head of the local chapter of NAACP, met with King and other local civil rights leaders, who elected King to lead a citywide bus boycott. In his first rallying speech as the group’s president, he displayed a natural gift for inspirational rhetoric that would continue to grow stronger in the future.
Despite the strong role model of his minister father, King. began questioning religion during his early teenage years. However, when he was a junior in high school, he took a Bible class which influenced him to renew his religious beliefs, and began to envision life as a minister. After graduating from Morehouse College in 1948 and attending Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, King was working on his doctoral studies at Boston University when he met Coretta Scott. They married in 1953, and by 1955, when King earned his Ph.D, he was already pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was just 25 years old.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, the middle child of parents who both had deep roots in rural Georgia. His father, who became a successful minister, changed his name to Martin Luther King to honor the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther.
Martin Luther King Jr. Statistics
Martin Luther King's Birthday FAQs
Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday?
When was the first MLK Day?
Is January 21 Martin Luther King's birthday?
How to Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday
Celebrate diversity over dinner
To honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s emphasis on diversity, plan a dinner party where foods from many different ethnic origins are served. A sample menu could include a French crudité platter as an appetizer, bobotie (a kind of fancy meatloaf) from South Africa for the main dish, Moroccan cous-cous as the salad course, followed by the truffle-like brigadeiros from Brazil for dessert, served with Turkish coffee. Extra credit: set up an international music playlist to accompany your feast.
Participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service
The MLK Day of Service is part of United We Serve, the national call-to-service initiative. Find a local project and volunteer; this could be helping to clean up a local park, delivering meals to house-bound people, or collecting food for a homeless shelter.
Revisit the "I Have A Dream" speech
One of the most profound ways to experience Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most memorable speech is to read it aloud, even if you're alone; hearing the words as you're saying them redoubles the impact of this impassioned, timeless message of hope and healing.
MLK Day: 5 Steps To A National Holiday
The campaign for a new national holiday began
Although the campaign for a federal holiday in Martin Luther King Jr.'s honor began soon after his assassination, it would not be officially observed in all 50 states until 2000.
The first bill was defeated in the House
The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979, but the result was five votes short of the number needed for passage.
The campaign heated up with celebrity support
After the King Center sought support from the corporate community and the general public, musician Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the campaign in 1980.
Some states delayed holiday name changes
In New Hampshire, for example, the holiday known as Civil Rights Day was not changed to Martin Luther King Day until 1999, when the State Legislature voted to change the name.
The final state made MLK Day official
In 2000, Utah became the last state to have a holiday named after King, by officially changing Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Why Martin Luther King's Birthday is Important
He had a dream
More than just a speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that he hoped would someday become a reality. He pushed to end segregation and hoped to create a world where people were seen as people, not as the skin color they were born with.
He inspired a nation
King wouldn't be able to change the world on his own, but his words ignited the spark inside the hearts of every activist at the time waiting for the right moment to make a difference. As a leader, he inspired countless people to fight for equality around the nation.
We wouldn't know some of our best friends without him
Odds are, you have a pretty diverse friend group made up of people from different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Without the efforts of Dr. King and people like him, you would never have gotten the chance to have these friends in your life!
Martin Luther King's Birthday dates