In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. The holiday was first commemorated in 1986. It is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to King’s January 15 birthday. George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday.
He was born Michael King Jr., but his father changed both of their names after attending a conference in Germany. He wanted to commemorate German reformer Martin Luther.
King faced threats on his life because of his activism, going back more than a decade before his assassination. On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s Department Store. He was approached by a woman, who asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Izola Ware Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,”
She stabbed him with a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta. King underwent many hours of emergency surgery around his heart. Doctors later told him that just a sneeze could have and killed him.
In April 1968, King came to Memphis to support the strike of the city’s black garbage workers. During his speech on the night before his assassination, he told an audience at Mason Temple Church: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”
Through his non-violent activism in the civil rights movement, he played a pivotal role in successfully ending racial discrimination in state and federal laws. His actions were responsible for the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Martin Luther King Jr told us, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”.