Why wasn't Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrated in all 50 states until the year 2000?
And what do the NFL, taxes, and Stevie Wonder have do with it?
Most of us are familiar with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his role in advancing civil rights, and his participation in landmark protests such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Montgomery bus boycotts, the Selma to Montgomery Marches as well as his involvement in civil disobedience and nonviolence.
But even though the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. seems relatively common today, his role in US history was contentious during his years of activism.
He was closely monitored by the FBI during his lifetime for his protests.
He was arrested approximately 29 times on trumped up charges for his attempts to change unjust and biased laws.
He spoke openly in favor of labor rights, and against US involvement in the Vietnam War and racial terror, causing many to label him anti-American or a "communist sympathizer."
In 2014 Professor Beverly Gage, a historian at Yale, unearthed a 1964 letter from a supposed detractor who accused King of infidelity and insinuated that he should commit suicide.
The letter was discovered to be sent from the FBI, which was then led by J Edgar Hoover, a notorious King detractor.
Although the discovery of the letter's authorship came over a decade later from the Senate's Church Committee on intelligence overreach.
And when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1964, certain parents, students, and members of the public expressed outrage at the University's decision.
But the tricky part of this conversation is that yes, Dr. King in some cases broke the law.
But those same laws were later overturned when they were discovered to be unjust.
So although his legacy is currently celebrated, that was not always the case making the passage of his holiday controversial when it was first proposed.
But the pathway to MLK day becoming a holiday was a rocky one and here at the Origin of Everything we thought we'd take this occasion to note some of the important landmarks on the path to how the federal holiday came into existence.
Because although it might seem like (something) of a given to many of us today, the holiday wasn't recognized and celebrated in all 50 states until 2000.
That's right, MLK Day wasn't fully recognized nationwide until after the world calmed down from Y2K madness.
But before we get to what halted the holiday's spread, we should first ask ourselves: What were the earliest iterations of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and when did it begin?
Beginning in March 1968, MLK was in Memphis in support of black sanitation workers, who had been on strike.
On April 3rd he delivered his final speech, "I've been to the Mountaintop" at the Mason Temple.
On April 4th he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray while standing on the second floor balcony outside of his room at the Lorraine Motel.
4 days after his assassination, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan (who recently resigned) introduced the first legislation to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday.
By June 26th of that same year the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Center is founded in Atlanta Georgia.
On January 15th 1969 the King Center began to commemorate his birthday with an ecumenical service, which gains attention as a model for other observances of his birthday nationwide.
But these were privately held ceremonies and not a federal holiday.
So that brings us to our next question: If Martin Luther King Jr. Day began as a series of private observances, then when did it become a federal holiday?
And why was there resistance to its passage?
Well it seems like there were two camps that formed in resistance to recognizing MLK Day as a federal holiday.
The first was concerned with King's history as a political objector and activist while the other was concerned with the costs associated with creating a federal holiday.
In 1971, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference collected 3 million signatures in support of making King Day a holiday and these signatures were presented to congress, but congress did not progress any action to make it a federal holiday.
In 1973 Illinois became the first state to pass legislation making MLK a state holiday, followed by Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1974.
And in 1975 the New Jersey State Supreme Court rules that the state must provide a paid holiday for state employees on MLK day because of its labor contracts with the NJ State Employees Association.
From 1975-1983 pressure from the public, congressional hearings from King's widow Coretta Scott King and calls to action from the National Council of Churches all influenced the conversation around whether Martin Luther King Jr. Da y should become a federal holiday in all 50 states.
Recording artist Stevie Wonder even got in on the act with the release of his 1980 song "Happy Birthday" celebrating the birthday of Dr. King and urging for the holiday to be passed.
By 1983 the continued pressure had paid off and both the Senate and Congress were strongly in favor of the passage of MLK Day.
But even with a majority of leaders supporting the passage of the federal holiday, there still remained some holdouts.
Sen Jesse Helms of North Carolina came out against the bill calling King a supporter of "radical political" views and "action-oriented Marxism," before temporarily blocking the Senate action on the House approved bill in 1983.
Although the bill was criticized by Helms, it wasn't universally unpopular or popular along specific party lines with Senators and Congressmen and Women supporting the bill on either side of the aisle.
Then in 1983 the King Holiday Bill was passed, which called for MLK day to be celebrated on the 3rd Monday in January.
The bill received bipartisan support and was sponsored by Democratic Rep Katie Hall from Indiana and Republican Rep Jack Kemp of NY.
Later that same year the bill was passed in the Senate sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy before being signed by President Reagan on November 3rd.
The holiday was scheduled to begin in 1986.
So the first MLK day was celebrated as a federal holiday in 1986.
But it wasn't recognized in all 50 states until 2000.
So that brings us to our final question: What happened to the holiday in the 14 years between the scheduled beginning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and its first nationwide recognition in 2000?
Well in 1984 the King Holiday commission was formed and chaired by Coretta Scott King and the holiday was first celebrated in 1986, as planned.
But remember when I noted that some were opposed to passing a federal holiday in honor of King because of the potential cost to taxpayers?
Well with the passage of a federal holiday came the question of paid leave for unionized employees.
In 1990 only 18% of the 317 corporate employers surveyed by the Bureau of National Affairs provided a paid King Holiday.
Also the creation of a federal holiday isn't exactly cheap and it's different from national holidays.
The 10 recognized federal holidays celebrated today are not technically national holidays.
A national holiday would mean that congress and or the President has enforced the recognition of a holiday in all 50 states.
Whereas a federal holiday is a holiday that applies only to federal employees and to the District of Columbia.
And with the creation of a holiday that gives time off to federal employees as well as the potential for paid time off to employees in the private sector, there is an associated cost.
A 1999 congressional report notes: "Supporters of the bill argued that a federal holiday would provide genuine and deserved recognition to Dr. King and the civil rights movement that he led.
Opponents maintained that the nation did not need a tenth federal holiday, and cited its expense to the taxpayers-an estimated $220 to $240 million a year in lost productivity in the federal workforce and more than $4 billion in the private sector."
(Federal Holidays, Evolution and Application) But even though they were concerned about the cost of providing a holiday, there were instances in which employers and states actually lost money for not recognizing MLK day.
Labor unions were one of the strongest supporters of the making MLK Day a federal holiday, especially in light of his support of workers' rights and labor unions.
And in fact waves of strikes or workers refusing to work on King's birthday in the 1970s helped garner support for making MLK day a federal holiday.
In 1991, the National Football League voted to remove the 1993 Superbowl from Arizona over the state's refusal to recognize MLK Day, deciding to host it in Pasadena instead.
By 1992 Arizona passed a referendum establishing a statewide King holiday, which was first celebrated in 1993.
But even with these counter arguments presented against the passage of MLK Day, there was still steadily growing support for the new holiday.
Then Governor Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire signs MLK day into law in 1999, making the year 2000 the first year that the holiday was celebrated in every state nationwide.
So how does it all add up?
Well it seems the path to MLK Day becoming a federal holiday was a rocky one.
And although pushback surrounding King's recognition after his assassination was influenced by his legacy as a civil rights leader, another component of the story was surrounding union organizing alongside individual states and employers being reluctant to offer a paid holiday for employees.
But it was the advocacy of unions, the activism of the general public, and the sustained organizing of groups such as the King Center that finally saw this federal holiday recognized across the US.
So what do you think?