This holiday, which occurs on the third Monday in January each year, was established to serve as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. A number of states resisted celebrating the holiday. Some opponents said King did not deserve his own holiday, contending that the entire civil rights movement rather than one individual, however instrumental, should be honored. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, Republican from California.