History of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

What is MLK Day?

MLK Day is a day set aside to honor Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday of January each year in America. MLK Day was first observed in 1972, four years after King's assassination in 1968, as a result of the efforts of Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who had campaigned for a holiday in King's name, and John Conyers Jr., then an unknown U.S. Representative from Michigan, who introduced legislation in Congress. In the beginning, many states resisted observing the holiday. However, in 2000, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed by all

50 states for the first time when it became a federal holiday.

When is MLK Day 2022?

If you're checking your calendar, you'll find that this year the holiday falls on this upcoming Monday, January 17th. Dr. King's actual birthday is January 15th, but you'll find that the American holiday could be as early as Monday, January 15 and the latest is January 21.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Traditions

What do people usually do on MLK Day?

People all over the country take time on this day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy with parades, marches, community service projects, and speeches about his work. It is a time to reflect and ask yourself what are you doing for others? Many businesses are closed in observance, as are schools, banks, and some post offices.

In the age of social media, you will find that there trending hashtags related to most holidays, and MLK Day is no different. If you venture onto Twitter you will find hashtags like #MLKDay2022 or #MLKDay2022Chat full of information about his life, the purpose of the holiday, and opportunities to observe it. Some activists and influencers use their platform to raise awareness of important social equity issues or to provide templates for how to make the most of the holiday.

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is Important

"Just do something good" on MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an important day for us to reflect and ask ourselves what we're doing for others. Many would say that the best way to honor his legacy is to use your resources to provide some kind of community service. Others would say your time is better spent reaching out to your state representatives about different bills. Overall the message is that spending time in action, seeking equality, gathering signatures, or serving your community are all in the realm of honoring King's legacy.

At the end of last year members of Dr. King's family expressed that there ought not to be any celebratory events when there continue to be barriers to voters equity in the nation. In December 2021 CNN reported that the King family wanted a halt to all celebratory events for the holiday until federal voting rights bills are passed. His son Martin Luther King III, wanted people to divert their energy to putting pressure on Biden and Congress to recognize the significance of federal voter rights bills.

What the King Family and Others Are Saying About MLK Day 2022

Martin Luther King III on Voting Rights

Who is Martin Luther King III?

Martin Luther King III is a global human rights activist and humanitarian who continues his efforts to realize his father's dream. In his official Twitter bio, he lists his roles as Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board. for @DrumMajorInst and Co-Founder @GiveUsTheBallot.

What did he have to say about MLK DAY 2022?

On January 17, 2022, members of the King family and other activists plan to march across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC. They also have plans to march across a bridge in Arizona, to mirror the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for voting rights for Black Americans.

These actions are meant to pressure Biden and the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The latter is named after King's contemporary the late John Lewis, who did one of his last interviews with Honeysuckle Magazine. On Jan 11th, 2022 he continued to express the importance of holding state representatives accountable:

“Our leaders must protect and strengthen the sacred right to vote that my father and so many others fought for. As #MLKDay approaches, I urge you to evaluate whether your elected officials are standing on the right or wrong side of history. #DeliverForVotingRights”

After President Biden expressed support for federal voting rights, King III quoted him in another tweet later that day:

"It's not enough to praise Dr. Martin Luther King Jr...don't celebrate his birthday unless you're willing to support what he lived for and what he died for." - @POTUS There will be no celebration without legislation this #MLKDay. Congress must #DeliverForVotingRights now.”

Bernice King and Sustainable Change

Who is Bernice King?

Dr. Bernice King is the CEO of The King Center and the daughter of Martin Luther King. She continues to keep the work of both her parents alive through her work in the organization.

What did she have to say about MLK DAY 2022?

Back in December, she offered an explanation of the center's and her family's plans for the MLK Day holiday in 2022 after her brother indicated they would not formally celebrate it unless voting rights bills passed in Congress.

As the holiday nears she further emphasized that the true spirit of her father's legacy was a fervent dedication to service and structural change within the government. Jan 9th, 2022 she tweeted the following:

“Service matters. But my father believed in service + systemic/structural change. This #MLKDay, focus on both and continue the work of meeting critical needs AND working to address why those needs exist throughout the year. Create sustainable change. Help eradicate injustice. #MLK #MLKDay22Chat @TheKingCenter"

In response to a Q&A tweet thread from Americorps, that inquired about how people could serve on MLK Day, she said:

"Please strategically incorporate my father’s teachings on #MLKDay:

•Read and share books/writings/speeches beyond ‘I Have a Dream’

•Think of ways to serve + create systemic change locally, nationally and globally

•Honor King, End Racism "

Barbara Ransby and Resistance of Mainstreaming Black History

Who is Barbara Ransby?

Barbara is a historian, activist, and professor, MacArthur Chair at the University of Illinois - Chicago. She is also the author of the books Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, Eslanda, and Making All Black Lives Matter.

What did she have to say about MLK DAY 2022?

Ransby called attention to the need to steer away from allowing the holiday to serve a commodified and diluted narrative about the work of civil rights leaders such as Dr. King. On January 14th she listed other leaders who suffer from mainstreaming black history:

“As we approach MLK Day once again let's resist the flaccid mainstreaming of King and the many movement freedom fighters of that era: Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Unita Blackwell, June Johnson (and Jordan), Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Mabel Williams…"

Lance Cooper and Support for Voting Rights Legislation on MLK Day

Who is Lance Cooper?

Lance Cooper is an award-winning activist, influencer, multimedia journalist, and organizer. He has been one of the key figures involved with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the U.S. and launched the #SaveFlintChallenge in 2018 that energized donors to send clean drinking water to the people of Flint, Michigan.

What did he have to say about MLK DAY 2022?

On Jan 14th he tweeted in support of the family: "The family of Martin Luther King Jr. has asked that there be no celebration of MLK Day unless federal voting rights legislation is passed. Hit like and retweet to spread the message."

Gregory Carr: What would MLK Jr. Think About MLK Day 2022?

Who is Gregory Carr?

Dr, Gregor Carr is a popular HBCU professor and scholar. A former board member for the National Council for Black Studies, he is a part of the Howard University Dept of African American Studies and also teaches at the HU School of Law. Audiences can see Carr as a regular panelist on the daily digital news show Roland Martin Unfiltered and the YouTube Series In Class with Carr.

What did he have to say about MLK DAY 2022?

On Jan 15th he shared the following tweet: "This #MartinLutherKing #MartinLutherKingJr #MartinLutherKingDayweekend, we spend @inclasswithcarr connecting our Africana Studies framework to the question "What Would MLK Think Today?"

He accompanied the tweet with this Youtube video where he conducted the conversation about what MLK would think of MLK Day as a holiday among other things.

The Message for MLK Day of Service 2022

2022 Proclamation on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

If you are still stuck on what you should take away from the slightly conflicting messages about what to do at MLK events, here are a few things you should remember. The King Center will still be hosting MLK Day 2022 events on January 17th. Local organizations are still organizing MLK day activities and community service opportunities. Dr. King's son is organizing a group that will march together on MLK day. All of these MLK Day 2022 events are in the spirit of honoring his legacy. The worst thing you could do is nothing at all.