Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, birthday is January 15. Though a federal holiday commemorating him was proposed as early as four days after his assassination in 1968, Public Law 98-114, opens a new window, the bill creating this federal holiday, was not signed into law, opens a new window until 1983. A freshwoman, Rep. Katie Hall (D-Ind) led the final, successful effort. Many different versions were worked through by the 98th Congress, opens a new window before passage. Georgia adopted the holiday in 1984, though other states opposed it. It was not officially observed in all 50 states until 2000, and several states call it by different names.

The bill also established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission to manage the government's implementation of the holiday. The correspondence of Coretta Scott King, who chaired this commission her entire life, can be viewed at the National Archives in Atlanta, opens a new window along with other civil rights-related materials.

Today, the Federal government has much to offer for people wanting to learn more about Dr King's life and message. Atlanta is home to the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park, opens a new window, offering help to teachers wishing to incorporate Dr King into their classroom offerings. 

Congress in 1996 authorized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to establish a Memorial to him in Washington, DC, opens a new window. This memorial opened in 2011, is operated by the National Park Service, and incorporates stirring quotations from a world master of nonviolent direct action.

The holiday has been a day of service since 1994. Tying it to national service derived from an effort spearheaded by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga). If you are interested, you can look for opportunities to serve on the website of the Corporation for National & Community Service, opens a new window

For myself and many others my age, watching the Federal government of today embrace Dr King and his teachings is a wondrous event that sometimes feels a bit otherworldly. We remember that Dr King was opposed to many actions of the Federal government, particularly its sometime tolerance of segregation in the states (and by law in District of Columbia schools, under Congress' very control, until 1954), and its conduct of the war in Vietnam. It's good to recognize that many things have changed for the better, opens a new window thanks to the efforts of individuals inspired by Dr King, who said in Atlanta in 1967:

"If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective." 

A Christmas Sermon of Peace, delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church December 24, 1967

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