NATIONAL MLKJ HOLIDAY: 1983; Running From Empty Shoes

King’s leadership, along with that of other civil rights groups and activists, led to the passage of three major civil rights bills and the evolution of African Americans to full citizenship. Not only was this unprecedented, but it restored America’s democracy to a new level in world affairs. Thus, Conyers’s efforts to honor this distinguished citizen led him to try to mobilize grassroots support to pressure Congress and the president to pass his national holiday bill. Previous efforts to make holidays for Booker T. Washington, Black Mammies, National Freedom Day (Emancipation Day), and George Washington Carver all ended in failure or were reduced to special observations.

NATIONAL MLKJ HOLIDAY: 1983; Running From Empty Shoes

Stevie Wonder

Conyers enlisted Stevie Wonder, who wrote a popular song. Conyers also held rallies in Washington in front of the Capitol and inserted numerous items in the Congressional Record as well as reintroduced his bill every year from 1968 until 1983, but failed to get passage and support from Democratic presidents Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

However, in 1982, a congressman from Indiana died, and it fell to Gary’s mayor, Richard Hatcher, to handpick and support State Senator Katie Hall to be a candidate to assume the office. In a special election, Hall won the right to serve the remainder of the congressman’s term and win her own term. Upon coming to the House of Representatives, she learned that the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Population and Census had not been filled because no one wanted such a low prestige committee post. Yet she discovered that this subcommittee was in charge of considering bills for national holidays. She accepted the chair’s position and introduced her own King holiday bill, which eventually came to her own subcommittee for consideration. She held a public hearing on the bill, voted the bill out of her subcommittee, and sent it back to the full committee. She lobbied the full committee, and they voted it out and sent it to the floor of the House of Representatives. After Hall lobbied all 434 members of the House, her bill passed.

Next, Hall lobbied all 100 members of the U.S. Senate, and Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R-KS) introduced the House bill in the Senate and put it on the Senate calendar. President Ronald Reagan not only declared that he would veto such a bill but asked Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) to stop the bill with a filibuster. Once Helms started his stalling tactics, Dole asked the White House to call Helms off. When it did not, Dole and his majority whip, Howard Baker (R-TN), successfully invoked cloture to stop the Helms filibuster. Thus, the bill passed, and when it reached the White House, Reagan held a Rose Garden ceremony to sign it into law. In 1983, King’s birthday became a national holiday, and a Federal Holiday Commission was created to implement it. As of 2007, but not at first, all the states recognize this holiday. As a consequence, the King legacy still lives.


  • King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1958. Stride Toward Freedom The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper & Row. ———. 1959.
  • The Measure of a Man. Philadelphia: Christian Education Press.———. 1964.
  • Strength to Love. New York: Pocket Books.———. 1967.
  • Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Branch, Taylor. 1988. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–1963. New York: Simon & Schuster.———. 1998.
  • Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963– 1965. New York: Simon & Schuster.———. 2006.
  • At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years,1965–1968. New York: Simon & Schuster. Carson, Clayborne, ed. 1992.
  • The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Vol 1. Berkeley: University of California Press.———, ed. 1998.
  • The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Intellectual Properties Management in association with Warner Books. Carson, Clayborne, and Peter
    eds. 1998.
  • A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Intellectual Properties Management in association with Warner Books. Carson, Clayborne, and Kris
    eds. 2001.
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Intellectual Properties Management in association with Warner Books. Walton, Hanes, Jr. 1968. ‘‘The Political Leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.’’
  • Quarterly Review of Higher Education Among Negroes 36: 163–171. ———. 1971.
  • The Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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