'Martin Luther King Jr. Day' Becomes a National Holiday

Coretta King’s most enduring contribution to American culture has been as chair of the Martin L. King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission.

In the late 1970s the King Center collected six million signatures on a petition urging the creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial holiday, and in November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the bill designating the national holiday.

The 98th Congress (1983-84) would finally prove that perseverance does pay off. The first session marked the 15th anniversary of King’s death. During the previous year the King Center had called for and mobilized a conference to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the March on Washington, with more than 100 organizations participating. A coalition was subsequently formed to lobby for the Holiday bill. Singing star Stevie Wonder provided funds to
open a Holiday lobbying office and staff in Washington, D.C. Later that year Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder presented a petition to Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) containing the signatures of six million citizens.