January 20 1986 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Celebrated in the U.S.

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Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Christian minister, and one of the most visible and well-known spokespeople during the civil rights movement. Best known for advancing civil rights through non-violence, he was a big proponent of civil disobedience, and was arrested many times while protesting.

MLK Jr. was known for many things, perhaps most notably his "I Have a Dream" speech that gathered hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial. This has become one of the most iconic speeches in American history.

He also lead the Montgomery bus boycott, helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work combating racial inequality throughout the United States.

He eventually began speaking out against injustices beyond race, extending his platform to combat poverty and speak out against the Vietnam War.

J Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI, considered MLK Jr. a radical, and he had the FBI look into him for communist ties. They made public rumors of his extramarital affair, and sent him threatening letters.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968 in Memphis by James Earl Ray, and potentially other accomplices. Many do not believe he acted alone. James Earl Ray died after 29 years of his life sentence.

After his assassination, riots broke out throughout the country.

He was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal after his death. Nearly 900 streets have been named after him throughout the country, a county in Washington was re-dedicated for him, and a memorial now stands in the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


Most who have been taught by the American school system know a lot about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, but there are still many little-known facts about this incredible historical figure that people may not know.

1. He was actually born "Michael King Jr.", but after his father (also Michael) became inspired by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, he changed his name and his son's name to both be Martin Luther. (2)

2. King was imprisoned nearly 30 times - some for civil disobedience during protests, but sometimes for trumped up charges (i.e., going 30 in a 25) likely because of his race and prominence in the civil rights movement. (2)

3. Though he was eventually assassinated, an attempt was made on his life almost 10 years before his eventual death. A woman came to his book signing and plunged a letter opener into his chest. He recovered after surgery, saying he had no ill will towards the woman who attacked him. (2)

4. His mother also died because she was shot in 1974, 6 years after her son was assassinated. She was playing the organ at church and the gunman, Marcus Wayne Chenault, said that Christians were the enemy and he was given divine instructions to kill. His target was Martin Luther, King's father, but he killed his mother Alberta instead. A deacon was also killed in the shooting. (2)

5. King entered college at the age of 15 and was extremely smart. Though he is now known as one of the greatest speakers of all time, he received a C in public speaking class. (3)


Though King was assassinated in 1968, the legislation to make a holiday for him didn't pass until 1983 and the first holiday wasn't observed until January 20th, 1986. The holiday is set to be celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January, close to his January 15th birthday.

The first year it was celebrated, people held marches, church services, vigils and concerts. A freedom train ran from San Jose to San Francisco, and readings and religious services took place all over the U.S.

Though MLK day is a widely recognized holiday now, the process to get holiday-status was a long one. John Conyers, one of the only black people in congress at the time, had proposed it only 4 days after his assassination, but nobody listened.

He tried year after year, putting it in front of congress after congress, but it never made any headway. Finally, in the early 80s, a tide turned. Through his partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus, 6 million signatures were acquired in support. Stevie Wonder even wrote a song about it, which helped to gain recognition of the cause and garner support.

Finally, in 1983, it went to the floor again and despite a republican senator's filibuster, it ended up passing with flying colors.

Martin Luther King Jr. became the first modern private citizen to be honored with a federal holiday. Though the legislation was signed in 1983 and the first celebrations weren't until 1986, some states took longer than others to accept it as a paid federal holiday. South Carolina was last, finally recognizing in 2000.

Today, we celebrate for the 34th time a man who lived a very important life and moved the needle immensely in the fight toward racial equality. Even now, over 50 years after his assassination, we have a lot of work to do. But today is a day to remember the work put in by a man who sacrificed his life for equality, and tried to love all while doing so.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr

2. https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-martin-luther-king-jr

3. https://coretitle.com/martin-luther-king-facts/

4. https://time.com/4632373/mlk-first-holiday-celebation/

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