Date and Origin of Martin Luther King's Birthday

Martin Luther King's Birthday Dates in 2024, 2025 and 2026

Martin Luther King's Birthday is observed at the following dates:

Martin Luther King Jr. day is a federal holiday that celebrates civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr.'s, birthday. It occurs on the third Monday in January every year, close to his birthday, which falls on January 15.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience and equality among all races1. He received a Nobel Peace Prize in 19642. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Thursday, April 4, 1968 by James Earl Ray outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee3.

Origins of the national day

Shortly after his assassination, lobbies were pushed to create a holiday commemorating his life and work towards civil rights. Labor Unions advocated for the holiday as a part of contract negotiations4. The bill to make MLK day a federal holiday was first introduced by Representative John Conyers (D. Michigan) and Senator Edward Brooke (R. Massachusetts) in 19795.

Originally, the bill was 5 votes short of passing because it was deemed to expensive to add another paid holiday and was contrary to the tradition of celebrating only those who had held public office6. The King Center turned to corporations and the general public to garner support, leading to “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history,” with 6 million signatures6. Despite initially opposing the holiday, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making MLK day a national holiday in 1983, which was first observed in 19867.

Opposition to the Bill

North Carolina republican senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East led the opposition to implementing the holiday, stating that Martin Luther King Jr. was not important enough to have a federal holiday in his honor8. Helms led a filibuster against the bill alleging the Dr. King had ties with communism. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York state senator, stomped the 300 page report on the senate floor, calling it a "packet of filth9. Despite being a national holiday, many states did not observe the date until 1991 and many states still do not observe it under the name Martin Luther King Jr. day.


About 37% of workplaces have MLK day off10as well as most schools and universities. Since many people have the Monday off, retailers often have MLK day sales for that Monday only. Some people commemorate the life of MLK by volunteering for charitable organizations on this day.