Presidential Proclamation–Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday



Half a century ago, America was moved by a young preacher who called a generation to action and forever changed the course of history. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. devoted his life to the struggle for justice and equality, sowing seeds of hope for a day when all people might claim “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” On Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday, we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the holiday recognizing one of America’s greatest visionary leaders, and we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King.

Dr. King guided us toward a mountaintop on which all Americans — regardless of skin color — could live together in mutual respect and brotherhood. His bold leadership and prophetic eloquence united people of all backgrounds in a noble quest for freedom and basic civil rights. Inspired by Dr. King’s legacy, brave souls have marched fearlessly, organized relentlessly, and devoted their lives to the unending task of perfecting our Union. Their courage and dedication have carried us even closer to the promised land Dr. King envisioned, but we must recognize their achievements as milestones on the long path to true equal opportunity and equal rights.

We must face the challenges of today with the same strength, persistence, and determination exhibited by Dr. King, guided by the enduring values of hope and justice embodied by other civil rights leaders…..

For this reason, we honor Dr. King’s legacy with a national day of service. I encourage all Americans to visit www.MLKDay.gov to learn more about service opportunities across our country. By dedicating this day to service, we move our Nation closer to Dr. King’s vision of all Americans living and working together as one beloved community.

NOW, THEREFORE, I BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 17, 2011, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday…


Read the full proclamation here

President Barack Obama visits the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, La., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

26 Responses to “mlk”

  1. January 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Hey everybody..happy saturday..I Just wanted
    to share these clips of Dr.King on his
    birthday…ENJOY..!! 🙂

  2. 5 CarolineAnna
    January 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Wow, great video. Btw, January 17th is Michelle Obama’s birthday!

    January 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm


  4. 7 P
    January 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I LOVE that drawing of the president and the most Honourable Martin Luther King Jr. Chipsticks could you tell me who drew it? Happy Birthday Mr King may you rest in peace and thanks for all you have fought for. Without u there would not of been a Barack Obama as pres today and many others. I know the President will be reflecting heavily today in remembrance of you….also January 17th is Mrs. Obama’s birthday and it will be a holiday yay lol

  5. 14 Asher in Boston
    January 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Guys, as some might know since am a recent immigrant as I stated sometime ago, cud Chipsticks or anyone one here please explain to me why the proclamation by Prez. Obama, I thought it was already a federal holiday? I would greatly appreciate your clarification. Thank you?

    • January 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Asher, can’t remember where I read about it earlier today (will try to find link) but the MLK Federal Holiday was established by law in the 1980s, President Obama’s proclamation seems to be just a traditional Presidential marking of the holiday each year – will look for that link.

      • 16 Jessica
        January 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

        Does it have something to do with it being the third Monday in January and not a set date?

        • 17 maritza
          January 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm

          “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, January 15. (It will be observed on January 17 in 2011).

          King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed in 1986. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

          HistoryThe idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations.[1] After King’s death, United States Representative John Conyers (a Democrat from Michigan) 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. However, it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage.[2] Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents 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 (King had never held public office).[2] Soon after, the King Center turned to support from the corporate community and the general public. The success of this strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released the single “Happy Birthday” to popularize the campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by a 2006 article in The Nation as “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”[1]

          Ronald Reagan and Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day signing ceremonyAt the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, proposed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, creating a federal holiday to honor King.[3][4] It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.

          The bill established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to oversee observance of the holiday, and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, was made a member of this commission for life by President George H. W. Bush in May 1989.[5][6]

          Reluctance to observeSenator Jesse Helms (Republican of North Carolina) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. He also criticized King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing “action-oriented Marxism”.[7]

          President Ronald Reagan was also at first opposed to the holiday, citing cost concerns.[7] He signed the measure only after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate).

          Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham’s rescission of the state holiday in honor of King created by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable, McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize the holiday despite opposition from Mecham.[8]

          Former Gov, Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created the holiday by executive order just before he left office in 1986; but Mecham, armed with an attorney general’s opinion that Babbitt’s order was illegal, rescinded it days after he took office. Mecham subsequently issued his own executive order, setting aside the third Sunday in January as an unpaid holiday to honor King, but it never was recognized by supporters of a paid holiday. Mecham was impeached and removed from office for unrelated actions in 1988.

          In 1990, Arizonans were given the opportunity to vote to observe an MLK holiday. McCain successfully appealed to former President Ronald Reagan to support the holiday.[9] Prior to that date, New Hampshire and Arizona had not observed the day. Throughout the 1990s, this was heavily criticized. Following the failure of the 1990 proposition to recognize the holiday in Arizona, the National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.[10] The hip-hop group Public Enemy recorded a song titled “By The Time I Get To Arizona”, on their 1991 album Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, in which they describe assassinating the then Governor of Arizona Fife Symington III for his opposition to the holiday.

          In 1991, the New Hampshire legislature created “Civil Rights Day” and abolished “Fast Day”.[11] In 1999, “Civil Rights Day” was officially changed to “Martin Luther King Day,” becoming the last state to have a holiday named after Dr. King.[12]

          On May 2, 2000, South Carolina governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday an official state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees. Prior to this, employees could choose between celebrating Martin Luther King Day or one of three Confederate holidays.[13]

          There have also been voices supportive of King who argue that the national observance of his birthday actually domesticates his message.[14] They suggest that honoring him enables the American people to forget how subversive King really was.[15] Overall, in 2007, 33% of employers gave employees the day off, a 2% increase over the previous year. There was little difference in observance by large and small employers: 33% for firms with over 1,000 employees; and, 32% for firms with under 1,000 employees. The observance is most popular amongst nonprofit organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers.[16] The reasons for this have varied, ranging from the recent addition of the holiday, to its occurrence just two weeks after the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when many businesses are closed for part or sometimes all of the week. Additionally, many schools and places of higher education are closed for classes; others remain open but may hold seminars or celebrations of King’s message. Some factories and manufacturers used MLK Day as a floating or movable holiday.

          Alternative namesWhile all states now observe the holiday, some did not name the day after King. In Utah, the holiday was known as “Human Rights Day” until the year 2000,[17] when the Utah State Legislature voted to change the name of the holiday from Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In that same year Governor Michael O. Leavitt signed the bill officially naming the holiday “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day”.[17][18]

          In Virginia, it was known as Lee-Jackson-King Day.[17][19] The incongruous nature of the holiday, which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate Army generals and a civil rights icon, did not escape the notice of Virginia lawmakers. In 2000, a Martin Luther King Day was established in Virginia.[20] However, Mississippi still shares this co-celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and Robert E. Lee’s birthday on the third Monday of January.[21] In Arizona Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is known as “Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day”,[22] while in New Hampshire, its official name is “Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day”.[23]

          A poll by The Arizona Republic found 55 percent in favor of King Day and 42 percent opposed. A poll by the news paper conducted Sept. 13-16 found only 18 percent of 601 registered voters surveyed favored the King-Columbus Day swap. If both ballot measures are approved, the one with greater number of yes votes wins. If both are rejected, the long-established Columbus day would be retained, and Arizonans would have no paid King Holiday.[citation needed]

          King Day of ServiceThe national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. The federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994. Since 1996, the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service[24] has been the largest event in the nation honoring Dr. King.[25]

          Several other universities and organizations around the U.S., such as Arizona State University and Greater DC Cares, participate in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. In honor of MLK, volunteers across the country donate their time to make a difference on this day.

          Outside the USOne place outside the United States where Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed with equal importance is in the Japanese city of Hiroshima under mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who holds a special banquet at the mayor’s office as an act of unifying his city’s call for peace with King’s message of human rights.[26][27]

          The City of Toronto is another city that observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day.[28]

          In 1984, during a visit by the U.S. Sixth Fleet, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff conducted the first Israeli Presidential ceremony in commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, held in the President’s Residence, Jerusalem. Mrs. Aura Herzog, wife of Israel’s then-President Chaim Herzog, noted that she was especially proud to host this special event, because Israel had a national forest in honor of Dr. King, and that Israel and Dr. King shared the idea of dreams.[29] Resnicoff continued this theme in his remarks during the ceremony, quoting the verse from Genesis, spoken by the brothers of Joseph when they saw their brother approach, “Behold the dreamer comes; let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.” Resnicoff noted that, from time immemorial, there have been those who thought they could kill the dream by slaying the dreamer, but – as the example of Dr. King’s life shows – such people are always wrong.[30]

          The World Honors MLK through Stamps. Since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., memorial stamps have been issue in his honor worldwide. The first postage stamp to honor the internationally known civil rights leader was issued by Ras A Khaima, an Arabian state, on May 25, 1968. Other places have also issued stamps such as Cameroon, Mali, Sharjah, Mexico, India, Liberia, Rwanda, and the Virgin Islands. More recently, other states have issued stamps and postal souvenir sheets in Dr. King’s honor. Today, the civil rights leader has had more postage stamps issued in his honor than any other Black American. On January 13, 1979, the United States Postal Service unveiled a 15 cent commemorative stamp as a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. during ceremonies at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. It was the 10th stamp in honor a Black American and the second stamp issued in the Black Heritage USA Series which recognizes the contributions of Black Americans to the development of the United States. The U.S. Postal Service has issued 166,435,000 King stamps.

          References, More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._Day

          • January 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm

            Maritza, thank you for posting this history. Very interesting. I know we had a time here in Utah getting a clear cut day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. And much was made of the fact that public employees were getting too many days off and thus costing the taxpayers too much money.

  6. 19 barb
    January 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    This is from wiki:

    “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, January 15. (It will be observed on January 17 in 2011).”

    Today is also my daughter’s birthday. You all may not be so interested in this but it makes me happy. These are birthdays of my family and of the Obama family.

    my daughter Jennifer-January 15th(MLK’s birthday)—Michelle Obama January 17th
    myself and Sasha’s birthday—June 10th
    my grandaughter Jade–Malia’s birthday—-July 4th
    my grandauther Jaz—President Obama’s birthday—-August 4th

    Peace to all,
    barb (formerly known as YesWeCan)

  7. 23 Asher in Boston
    January 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks CS, Maritza with your well detailed clarifications/definition/explanations. Wow, McCain, no wonder.

  8. 24 Fred
    January 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Sorry but I feel very uncomfortable when the Prez is compared to MLK. Very different people from very different times.

    Also, because MLK was assassinated it makes me feel that much more uncomfortable.

    I just don’t feel a connection to black or white or any other race. He is more symbolic of a universal leader that transcends narrow racial boundaries IMHO.

    • January 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      I know what you mean Fred, and of course they are/were two very different men in very different times. But it’s hard not to view President Obama’s election as the part fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream, so in that sense it’s hard to resist linking them in historical terms.

  9. 26 donna dem 4 obama
    January 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I “borrowed” this picture to be my facebook profile pic in commemoration of MLK’s Birthday. 🙂

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