As We Celebrate the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – The History Behind the Holiday



As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s important to recognize how this day became a federal holiday in the first place.  It’s thanks to public relations pioneer Ofield Dukes (left), who worked with MLK Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s through the 1980s. It was in 1981,13 years after MLK’s death that Dukes, along with Stevie Wonder and Corretta Scott King, launched a campaign, advocating for Congress to make King’s birthday an official federal holiday. Dukes worked with Congressman John Conyers to introduce legislation, and two years later, Congress finally passed the bill. In 1983, Pres. Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law. The first official observance of MLK’s birthday was held on Jan. 20, 1986, and every January thereafter.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Public Relations,   For more on the life of Ofield Dukes, see Ofield: the Autobiography of Public Relations Man Ofield Dukes, by Dr. Rochelle Ford and Dr. Unnia Pettus, published by PRMuseumPress.