It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Congressman John Conyers first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress. Conyers and Rep. Shirley Chisolm resubmitted King holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Public pressure for the holiday mounted during the 1982 and 1983 civil rights marches in Washington. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed by President Ronald Reagan. A compromise moving the holiday from January 15, King's birthday, which was considered too close to Christmas and New Year's, to the third Monday in January helped overcome opposition to the law.
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. Several southern states include celebrations for various Confederate generals on that day, while Utah calls it Human Rights Day. Legislation is now pending to change the name to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992 after a threatened boycott. In 1999, New Hampshire changed the name of Civil Rights Day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Iowa
Iowa has been celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day since 1989. This day is held the third Monday in January. The celebration is usually held at the Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines. The ceremony consists of a prayer, a choir singing, a keynote speaker, an awards ceremony, and the tradition ringing of the bells.
In 2004 we celebrated at the Iowa Historical Building. Kimberly Baxter led the opening remarks. Governor Thomas Vilsack signed the proclamation, declaring January 19-25, 2004 as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. Reverend Dr. Michael Blackwell rendered a prayer. Hoover High School sang two songs. Greg Alan Williams, Emmy Award winning actor, educator, and author, was the speaker for the day. The awards ceremony was next. Dr. Ruth White presented the awards, while explaining the significance of each one. The benediction was then rendered by Reverend Beatrice Hines. At the end of the ceremony, the traditional bell ringing took place after the benediction from youth of Bethel and St. Paul AME churches of Des Moines. This was instructed by Beth Ann Edwards.