Martin Luther King Day

Photograph of Leaders at the Head of the Civil Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., front row, second from right, and other civil rights leaders march on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, August 28, 1963. (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) / United States Information Agency photo)

January 15 had been observed as a holiday for many years in 27 states and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared the third Monday in January a national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday – the only one an African-American.

Schools, offices and national agencies are closed for the holiday. On Monday there are quiet memorial services as well as long ceremonies in honor of Dr. King. On the previous Sunday, ministers of all religions give special speeches reminding everyone of Dr. King’s lifelong work for peace. All weekend, popular radio stations play songs and speeches that tell the history of the Martin Luther King. Television channels broadcast special programs with filmed highlights of Dr. King’s life and times.

“I Have a Dream”

On August 23, 1963, a crowd of more than 250,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. and marched to support the passing of laws that guaranteed every American equal civil rights. Martin Luther King was at the front of the “March on Washington.” On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day, Dr. King gave a speech that was later entitled “I Have a Dream.” The March was one of the largest gatherings of black and white people that the nation’s capital had ever seen… and no violence happened.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed while he was leading a workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee. White people and black people who had worked so hard for peace and civil rights were shocked and angry. The world grieved the loss of this man of peace.