Historical Highlights

The Creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

November 02, 1983
The Creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration Elected in a special election, Representative Katie Hall of Indiana was simultaneously elected to the 97th and 98th Congresses (1981-1985).
On this date President Ronald W. Reagan signed into law a bill to create a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Managed by Representative Katie Hall of Indiana, chairwoman of the Post Office and Civil Service’s Subcommittee on Census and Population, the legislation passed the House on August 2, 1983, by a vote of 338 to 90. Since the King assassination in 1968, similar measures had been introduced annually, but all had failed. The primary argument against the bill, led by fiscal conservatives, was the large cost of the holiday to the federal government, estimated at $18 million in overtime pay and lost work time. Hall courted detractors by moving the holiday from a fixed date—King’s January 15 birthday—to the third Monday of January to prevent government offices from opening twice in one week, thereby saving money. In the floor debate, Hall reminded her colleagues that “the legislation before us will act as a national commitment to Dr. King’s vision and determination for an ideal America, which he spoke of the night before his death, where equality will always prevail.”

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