MLK Day encourages service


American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) delivers his ‘I have a dream’ speech to participants in the March on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.

(CNN) — Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January, although Dr. King was actually born on the 15th of January 1929, 92 years ago.

Mrs. Coretta Scott King and musician Stevie Wonder fought for years to make it a federal holiday. Wonder told CNN that they started with tours and marches in the early 1980s. “And so our first march was in 1981, and we had another one in ’82, ’83. And then ultimately the bill was signed by President Reagan.

Below are some facts and numbers related to the federal holiday, in which Americans are encouraged to participate in a day of service. The numbers tell the story.

That’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.

From the King sermon delivered on the night of April 3, 1968, at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” it was his last speech.

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University


December 1, 1955 – The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott against segregated seating lasted approximately one year, starting December 1, 1955. This is what Dr. King said in his book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story”: We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

Source: Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


February 4, 1968 – Dr. King encourages his congregation to seek greatness through service and love

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” Dr. King said in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” Mrs. King read the same statement when, in 1994, she asked congress to make the holiday an official national day of humanitarian service.

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University


April 8, 1968 – The first legislative bill to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) sponsored the bill to establish the federal holiday on April 8, 1968.

Source: National Archives; Congressional Record


1980 – Wonder calls for a day of remembrance

Wonder’s release of “Happy Birthday,” a song asking for a day “in full remembrance.”

Source: Billboard; Universal Music Group


November 2, 1983 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day becomes a national holiday

President Ronald Reagan signed the November 3, 1983, legislation, creating the national holiday, which started in 1986.

Source: Congressional Record; National Archives


January 20, 1986 – The very first national celebration

In proclaiming January 20, 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President Reagan wrote, “Dr. King’s activism was rooted in the true patriotism that cherishes America’s ideals and strives to narrow the gap between those ideals and reality.”

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum; US Government Publishing Office


August 23, 1994 – The holiday becomes a day of service

The holiday became a day of service on August 23, 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act.

Source: AmeriCorps; The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara

Reflecting on his legacy in 2018, 50 years after his death. 

Walk in King’s footsteps at these destinations. 

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.