Tolerance.org: Teaching Tolerance: IN THE NEWS: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; No Name-Calling Week: IN THE NEWS: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; No Name-Calling Week
Jan. 10, 2007 -- Tolerance-related news events, with discussion questions and resources for classroom use
by Carrie Kilman
Professors Offer Realistic Look at King
Next Monday, the United States will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. How will your classroom celebrate?
Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Four days later, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) introduced a bill to create a national holiday in King's honor. But the bill stalled. For 15 years, members of Congress reintroduced the bill, but Congress steadfastly refused to pass it.
By November 1980, the bill lost by only 5 votes. Public support for a national holiday was growing. In 1982, more than 6 million people signed petitions urging Congress to pass the legislation. In August 1983, after continued public pressure, the King Holiday Bill passed the House by a vote of 338 to 90. But the fight wasn't over. In the Senate, the bill's fate was uncertain.
Later that month, 750,000 protesters marched to the Lincoln Memorial for the 20th Anniversary March on Washington, demanding the Senate and President Reagan take action. Two months later, the bill cleared the Senate. In November 1983, President Reagan ceremoniously signed it into law, while Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's widow, looked on.
Many states objected to the new holiday and refused to recognize it. In protest of the new law, several Southern states created holidays for Confederate generals on the same day as King's holiday. It wasn't until 1999 that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated in all 50 states. Today, the holiday is celebrated, in some form, in more than 100 countries.
Explore King's influence and the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in your state.