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Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Americans honor the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday celebrated on the third Monday of each January.

The holiday was established to serve as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a political organizer and advocate of nonviolent protest, King was pivotal in persuading his fellow Americans to end the legal segregation that prevailed throughout the South, and in gaining support for the civil rights legislation that established the legal framework for racial equality in the United States. Dr. King created a powerful and enduring legacy for all Americans by calling upon our Nation to ensure equal justice under law and uphold our founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.

Since his assassination in 1968, memorial services have marked his birthday on January 15. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing January 15 as a legal holiday honoring the civil rights leader. The ceremony was attended by Mrs. Coretta Scott King and family, members of Congress, and business and religious leaders.

During the signing President Reagan said:

"All right-thinking people, all right-thinking Americans are joined in spirit with us this day as the highest recognition which this nation gives is bestowed upon Martin Luther King Jr., one who also was the recipient of the highest recognition which the world bestows, the Nobel Peace Prize.

"America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, a more peaceful nation because Martin Luther King, Jr. became her preeminent nonviolent commander."

In 1986, January 15 was replaced by the third Monday of January, which was declared a national holiday. It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. Many states were reluctant to observe the holiday but on January 17, 2000, for the first time, all 50 states officially observed the holiday.

Americans are encouraged to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service programs and activities in honor of the memory and legacy of Dr. King.

The only other American to be honored with an individual federal holiday is George Washington.


"I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world.  It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism.  Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization.  To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe.  Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love."

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1957






Americans Celebrate Achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. (From the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs)


Monument in Washington To Honor Martin Luther King Jr.


The King Center


The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project (at Stanford University)


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