Martin Luther King, Jr Day is only one of three national holidays in the United States named after an individual. The other two are Christopher Columbus and the nation’s first President, George Washington.
The first attempt to pass legislation for a holiday in King’s name failed in 1979, falling short in the House of Representatives by 5 votes. The King Center in Atlanta “turned to support from the corporate community and the general public.” Jesse Jackson, Gil Scott-Heron, and Stevie Wonder united under the cause, enlisting the help of music producer and creative executive Don Mizell. In Mizell’s article at The Grio, he credits Stevie as the driving force behind the holiday:
“Stevie Wonder is without question the single most important figure in the realization of an MLK National Holiday, because his inner vision, passion and perseverance were the driving force in galvanizing all the forces that came together to make it happen.”
Together they kicked off “a mega-media political and cultural music event, Dr. King style.” Stevie rallied the crowd with a song he’d written for the cause of creating a national holiday in Dr. King’s name; it’s called “Happy Birthday.”
Six million signatures were collected for a petition to Congress to pass the law (from The Nation‘s article Working Class Hero via Wikipedia) :
“Coretta Scott King presented Congress with 6 million signatures in favor of a King day bill, the largest petition in favor of an issue in US history.” President Reagan signed the bill in 1983.
Share these videos with your students to honor and remember Dr. King today:
Jesse Jackson Recalls MLK’s Last Day. The History Channel:
“…he went through his whole life that day.”
Maya Angelou: King ‘Killed on My Birthday.’ The History Channel:
“… people live in direct relation to the heroes and sheroes they have… from 1968 until today I find myself unable to celebrate my birthday.”
Martin Luther King, Jr’s Last Speech (an excerpt):
“I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.”