faith in action

ON THIS DAY - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday is Observed for the First Time

After the Senate passed the King holiday bill, Coretta Scott King hosted a gathering in the Simpson Memorial Chapel at the United Methodist Building.

coretta scott king
photo courtesy of Inspirational Ministries

ON THIS DAY… January 15, 1986

Today, 38-years-ago, marks the first time people across the United States celebrated a federal holiday observing the life, ministry, legacy and birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929). It was on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the King holiday bill into law, designating the third Monday in January for the holiday observance to begin in 1986.

After the Senate passed the King holiday bill on October 19, 1983, that evening, approximately 100 people, including Coretta Scott King, gathered at the United Methodist Building in the Simpson Memorial Chapel to celebrate the long-awaited achievement for a national holiday in honor of Dr. King’s birthday. The two-hour-long service was coordinated by D.C. Del Walter E. Fauntroy, who was a long-time top aide to Dr. King. See the news story from the Washington Post archives.

The legislation to recognize Dr. King Jr. Day was first introduced just four days after his assassination on April 4, 1968, by United States Representative John Conyers. Still, it would take 15 years of persistence by civil rights activists for the holiday to be approved by the federal government and an additional 17 years for it to be recognized in all 50 states.

As Coretta Scott King stood at the pulpit in the Simpson Memorial Chapel of the United Methodist Building on the evening of October 19, 1983, she said, “If we’re going to survive in this world, we’re going to have to really take nonviolence seriously… I would hope that we celebrate this holiday with a real sense of Martin’s life and his dream. His birthday could be celebrated in such a way that it could be ennobling.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities.

United Methodist Building Anniversary Resources

To purchase the 2024 United Methodist Building historical book written by Dr. Jessica M. Smith, For Justice and Enduring Peace: One Hundred Years of Social Witness, visit Cokesbury Publishing.

To watch our video, “Celebrating 100 Years of Social Witness,” and for more information on the year of celebration, go to our 100th Anniversary webpage.

Each month in 2024, Church and Society will highlight notable days offering glimpses into the momentous 100-year history of the United Methodist Building and the people called Methodists often walking along side ecumenical partners living their faith through social witness.