Happy Martin Luther King Day!
When Kathleen told me today was Martin Luther King day, I thought “Not a lot of modern figures get their own national holiday.” So I had a look to find out how a national holiday like this comes about.
Here’s the eye-opening 32 year history to today’s U.S. National holiday:
The holiday began as a union demand in contract negotiations with the U.S. government, with the idea of it being named after King taking place just 4 days after he died in 1968.
Throughout the 1970s, the unions fought without luck for a day of paid leave on this 3rd Monday of each new year, in the name of Martin Luther King.
In 1976, the unions formed a coalition with the King Center to campaign for full employment – with a march on King Day. This new, powerful coalition brought President Carter into the presidency and in return, President Carter endorsed the national holiday bill and ordered a commemorative stamp for Martin Luther King in 1979 (!)
However, Congress voted down the holiday bill later in 1979 by 5 votes as being too expensive, and on the basis that only two other private citizens had national holidays (George Washington and Christopher Columbus).
In 1980, the unions and the King Center hit back with a public campaign, funded by companies including Coca-Cola and the Miller Brewing Company.
The campaign was highlighted by Stevie Wonder releasing the hit single “Happy Birthday”.
Six million signatures were raised supporting the holiday and stands as “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.”
As a result, the holiday was finally signed into law in 1983, but it took another 17 years for all States to honor it (with the last, Utah and South Carolina, in 2000).
Martin Luther King died when he was 39 years old, leaving a lasting legacy.
It took another 32 years for the idea of a day in his honour to be fully embraced.
Whether you are familiar with the history of Martin Luther King Day or not (I’m guessing my American friends already know it well), this story is a good reminder that we overestimate what we can achieve in a week, underestimate what we can achieve in a year and seriously underestimate what we can achieve in 30 years.
I’ll be spending Martin Luther King Day thinking about what he achieved in his short lifetime, the enormous work still to be done for social justice and equal opportunities, and what we can all achieve by 2045.
“If you can’t fly, then run,
if you can’t run, then walk,
if you can’t walk, then crawl,
but whatever you do,
you have to keep moving forward.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Happy Martin Luther King Day.