Statue of Martin Luther King Jr. unveiled in his hometown
Martin Luther King Jr. was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. His most famous speech was “I have a Dream” and was the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was murdered at the age of 39. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his death in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.
The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of King.