The excerpt below originally appeared on my Facebook Jan 16, 2017. Reposting for ease.
By now you’ve probably seen many posts from your other friends about MLK’s legacy and less “well-known” stances. It’s also VERY important to understand how the day became a federal holiday — tl;dr: it was controversial, took a village, faced significant challenges and in some places is honored in the most disrespectful of ways.
Some highlights from different articles I read because no one source told the ugly and comprehensive story:
- The initial bill to recognize the day failed to get passed by 5 votes
- Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” (the unofficial but official happy birthday song for all black Americans) played a critical role in bringing about support. The power of musicians and their platforms!
- Civil Rights marches brought more pressure on the legislature do something. Power of the people!
- Reagan wasn’t all that enthusiastic and thought Jesse Helms’ criticism of establishing the day was “sincere”
- Jesse Helms (yes the one who switched from a Dem to Republican as the Dems starting pushing for civil rights legislation) attempted to filibuster
- Arizona didn’t recognize the holiday until 1992 (9 years after the bill passed) after the NFL Superbowl boycotted the state. The NBA successfully did this with the bathroom bill. Sports and athlete can be a positive force of change.
- New Hampshire was the last state to recognize the day in 1999
- Some southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia) have King split this day with General Lee (Commander of the Confederate army). Let’s pause on that for a moment. The Civil War may not have just been about preservation / abolition of slavery, but these state governments decided to combine these days. Imagine growing up in one of these states hearing about MLK’s legacy and truly believing you can achieve anything. Thankfully Obama isn’t from one of these states.
The need to look at multiple sources to gather this is unfortunate and likely an attempt to make the federal holiday seem like it was a more peaceful path to get there than it actually was. Even the Time article feels sanitized.