Martin Luther King Jr. Day: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Google is celebrating the civil rights activist as their Google Doodle.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an American federal holiday celebrated every year on the third Monday in January, which is around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday January 15. While King was assassinated in 1968, his birthday didn’t become a national holiday until 1982 when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. The first celebration was then held four years later on 1986. However, all 50 states didn’t recognize the holiday until 2000, preferring to call it something else because King was such a divisive character in some regions.

Find all out the information about the man this day celebrates, plus about the actual holiday here.

1. It Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.

martin luther king jr day

US civil rights leader Martin Luther King,Jr. (C) waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. In his life of 39 years, he became a Baptist minister, an activist, a humanitarian, and a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

He was actually born “Michael King”, but afer a trip to Germany, King’s father changed his and his son’s name to honor the religious reformer “Martin Luther”, who created a schism in the Catholic church over indulgances and eventually founded Lutheranism.

In King’s career, he led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, organized nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his use of nonviolence to combat racial inequality.

For the next four years he expanded his movement from the South to Chicago in an effort to defeat segregated housing. He also became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, which would later prove an issue with many once-supporters in Washington, D.C.

In 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray.

2. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

ronald reagan, martin luther king day

Ronald Reagan (Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images)

The idea to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday was first suggested by labor unions while in contract negotiations. It was then introduced as a bill by United States Representative John Conyers (a Democrat from Michigan) and United States Senator Edward Brooke (a Republican from Massachusetts) but wasn’t voted on until 1979. It then fell 5 votes short of passing.

The main reasons it was initially rejected was because it was too expensive to give federal employees paid lead, and that King had never served public office. He was a private citizen, which didn’t fit the traditional criteria for having a national holiday.

A petition was then circulated in 1980 to gather national support for the holiday. It gathered six million signatures, which is “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”

The bill came to President Ronald Reagan’s desk in 1982 and in 1986 the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated.

3. There Was Reluctance Until Year 2000

martin luther king jr day

American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

Even after the passing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day there was reluctance to embrace it with the senate.

Before it passed, Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) alleged that King was a known communist sympathizer and that King had also (truthfully) opposed the Vietnam War. And while the bill did pass and stand up to scrutiny, the repercussions of King’s divisiveness resonated until the year 2000 with his holiday.

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

4. King Joined an Unlikely Crew

martin luther king jr day

General George Washington (1732 – 1799) stands in the prow of a rowing boat crossing the Delaware to seek safety in Pennsylvania after defeat by the British. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King, Jr. joined George Washington and Christopher Columbus as the only two other people to have national holidays in their honor in the United States.

Washington’s Birthday, colloquially known as President’s Day, is celebrated on the third Monday in February. It began in 1879 by an act of Congress.

Columbus Day is the second Monday in October and became a federal holiday in 1937.

5. Selma

This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day is especially important because of the 2015 film Selma, which chronicles King’s involvement in helping black people get the right to register to vote in 1965 Alabama.

Selma has become particularly newsworthy due to the fact that the Oscars didn’t nominate its lead actor, David Oyelowo, for an award.

All the best actors and actresses these year are of white descent.

The public outcry triggered a social media trend called #OscarsSoWhite.