Martin Luther King Day is a United States holiday marking
the birthdate of the Martin Luther King, Jr., observed
on the third Monday of January each year, around the time
of King's birthday, January 15. It is one of just three
U.S. federal holidays to commemorate an individual person.
Martin Luther King Day was founded as a holiday promoted
by labor unions in contract negotiations. After King's
death in 1968, Rep. John Conyers introduced a bill in
Congress to make King's birthday a national holiday, highlighting
King's activism on behalf of trade unionists. Unions did
most of the promotion for the holiday throughout the 1970s.
In 1976, trade unionists helped to elect Jimmy Carter,
who endorsed the King Day bill. After that endorsement,
union influence in the King holiday campaign declined,
and the King Center turned to support from the corporate
community and the general public. The success of this
strategy was cemented when musician Stevie Wonder released
the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the
campaign in 1980 and hosted the Rally for Peace Press
Conference in 1981. Six million signatures were collected
for a petition to Congress to pass the law, termed by
a 2006 The Nation article as "...the largest petition
in favor of an issue in US history."
Opposition to the bill was led by Senator Jesse Helms,
who questioned whether King was important enough to receive
such an honor. He was also critical of King's opposition
to the Vietnam War, accused King of having Communist connections,
and believed he practiced necromancy. President Ronald
Reagan was also opposed to the holiday. He relented in
his opposition only after Congress passed the King Day
Bill with an overwhelming veto-proof majority 338 to 90
in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate.
At the White House on November 2, 1983, Reagan signed
a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. It was
observed for the first time on January 20, 1986.
On January 17, 2000, for the first time, Martin Luther
King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states.
The day is marked by demonstrations for peace, social
justice and racial and social equality, as well as a national
day of volunteer community service. On January 16, 2006
Greenville County, South Carolina, was the last county
in the U.S. to officially adopt Martin Luther King Day
as a paid holiday.
In Arizona and New Hampshire, Martin Luther King Day
is known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Civil Rights Day.
In the year 2000, the Utah State Legislature voted to
change the name of the holiday from Human Rights Day to
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In that same year Governor
Michael O. Leavitt signed the bill officially naming the
holiday "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day." Although
the day is a federal holiday and a state holiday in all
states, it is usually not observed by small companies
except for banks. Some large businesses close their operations
(more so than on Veterans Day or Columbus Day, which are
also federal holidays, but less so than on holidays such
as Memorial Day or Labor Day when virtually all corporations
are closed), but small mom and pop shops, restaurants,
and grocery stores tend to remain open. In 2007, 33% of
employers gave employees the day off, while 33% of large
employers over 1,000 and 32% of smaller employers gave
time off. The observance is most popular amongst nonprofit
organizations and least popular among factories and manufacturers.
The reasons for this have varied, ranging from the recent
addition of the holiday (each year more businesses are
closed than the year before, though often those that do
choose to close "make it up" by no longer closing
for Presidents Day) to its occurrence just two weeks after
the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when many
businesses are closed for part of or sometimes all of
the week. Additionally, many schools and places of higher
education are closed for classes; others remain open but
may hold seminars or celebrations of Martin Luther King's