The bill proposing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first introduced in the U.S. Congress four days after King’s assassination in 1968. It wasn't voted on until 1979, however, when it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage.
After a grassroots campaign led to the largest petition to Congress in U.S. history, and icons like Stevie Wonder raised awareness in popular culture, the bill finally passed and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986, though it would be the year 2000 before it was celebrated in all states.
We spoke with Camille Zubrinsky Charles, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences, professor of sociology, Africana Studies, and education, and Director of the Center for Africana Studies, about the historical significance of the holiday and the progression of social movements like Black Lives Matter.
On Thursday, January 21, Penn will host the 15th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture in Social Justice, featuring Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, two of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, in conversation with Charles. Click here for a full calendar of events.