Though Martin Luther King Day is now recognized on the United States’ federal calendar and by offices, schools, businesses, public and private spaces alike, the path to the celebration of this National Holiday has taken more than 30 plus years.
In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent fight for Civil Rights, he faced resistance from the U.S. government and many Americans, even receiving a letter from the FBI accusing him of misrepresenting African Americans and leading a fraudulent movement, calling him evil and not-so-subtly suggesting he take his own life to right his wrongs.
The first push for a national MLK day to honor the man who committed a huge chunk of his life resisting oppression and leading the Civil Rights movement came only four days after his assassination in 1968. John Conyers, a Democratic Congressman from Michigan, one of the few black representatives in Congress, and an active member of the Civil Rights movement, took the floor to call for a federal holiday in honor of King. There incredibly heated push-back to his request. His first bill failed, but Conyers persisted for 15 years, gathering co-sponsors which included the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Support for the holiday surged after Stevie Wonder wrote his hit song “Happy Birthday” about King and by 1983, the CBC had collected six million signatures of Americans supporting a federal holiday in honor of the Civil Rights hero.
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