In November 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday.
The change took effect three years later, when the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated on January 20, 1986, at the federal level. It wasn’t until 1991 that all states observed the holiday under various names, and it wasn’t uniformly known as “Martin Luther King Jr. Day” until 2000.
The decision to make a holiday after Dr. King was a fraught one, filled with concerns about the cost of making another paid holiday for federal employees as well as whether a holiday should be given to a private civilian when such a thing had never been done before. But over 15 years of campaigning and voting eventually won out over the opposition, and the holiday is now celebrated on the third Monday in January every year.
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