By Daniel Lewis, Product Manager
Since 1986, on the third Monday of every January, the United States observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2015, the holiday falls on January 19.
This day became a national holiday in November 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill to make it a law (although it wasn’t celebrated for the first time until January, 1986). The signing of the King Holiday law marked the culmination of a sustained effort by Coretta Scott King and other leaders to recognize King’s contribution to civil rights and human rights in the United States and even around the world. In 1971, the New York Amsterdam News reported that Congressman William F. Ryan presented three million petitions calling for the establishment of this holiday.
(For a summary of the history of the King Holiday, see the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change timeline on the King Holiday).
In 1982, the Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on “Proposals for Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday.” Peter W. Rodino, Jr., a member of Congress from New Jersey, provided an eloquent opening statement for the hearing:
“I want to thank you for inviting me here and I want to commend you and the members of your committee for holding these very important hearings on this very, very important issue, as to whether or not America recognizes its commitment to a man who has exemplified what social justice is all about, a man who died for that dream. That man is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. …
“Mr. Chairman, the matter that we discuss this morning… is of tremendous import to all Americans who feel that we cannot forget our commitment to social justice. The man who exemplified what social justice is all about, who lived for and eloquently spoke for social justice, who led a tremendous campaign that opened the hearts and minds and consciences of Americans to that commitment, and who died as a result of that struggle, that man was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. …
“I believe it takes a rare person or an extraordinary event to justify a national holiday. Dr. Martin Luther King was much more than a rare person. He was unique in American history, as a man, as a leader, as an advocate for freedom. The events closely related to his leadership of the civil rights movement were more than extraordinary. They had and will continue to have an extraordinary impact on American society. He was still a young man, only 39, when he was killed. … The firm, resolute, confident voice of freedom, of justice, of love, of nonviolent action and peace is sorely missed. The resonant, caring and eloquent voice of Dr. King is tragically lost, not only to blacks, not only to Americans, not only to the oppressed of the world, but to all mankind, for his was the voice of the best of humanity.”
Following Rodino’s opening statement, the committee heard from King’s widow, Coretta Scott King; civil rights leader and Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry; as well as labor leaders and members of Congress.
The transcript of this Congressional hearing, as well as many other hearings pertaining to the King Holiday, is available to researchers in ProQuest Congressional Hearings Digital Collection. In his speech, Rodino mentioned the “extraordinary” events of the civil rights movement. Students of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement can research these extraordinary events, including the key civil rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the NAACP using the archival collections on civil rights in ProQuest History Vault.
Librarians: Learn more about ProQuest Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, ProQuest History Vault, and ProQuest Historical NewspapersTM. Plus, get ready for Black History Month by signing up for free trials of ProQuest resources.