What is Martin Luther King Day?

It’s the third Monday of January, which means it’s time to commemorate the life and work of Dr King, also known as Martin Luther King Day, or MLK Day.

But what is Martin Luther King Day? And is the day commemorating the civil rights leader a national holiday?

Martin Luther King Jr was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement, which sought to bring equal rights, justice and equality to Black Americans. He played a key role in organising the March on Washington in 1963, which saw more than 200,0000 Americans march on the capital to support the passing of the Civil Rights Act and end employment discrimination.

It was here that Dr King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech condemning racism in the US and calling to “let freedom ring” across the country.

The day recognising Dr King encourages Americans to reflect on the racism that still blights the nation, and is typically observed by holding marches, rallies and speeches by politicians and civil rights leaders.

US civil rights leader Martin Luther King waves to supporters on 28 August 1963 in Washington DC during the ‘March on Washington’, where King delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech (AFP via Getty Images)

Martin Luther King was born on 15 January 1929, and was a critical voice in finally ending racial segregation in the US with the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Dr King became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964 in recognition of decades of work fighting for voting rights, fair housing, workers’ rights and other civil rights.

In 1968, Dr King was assassinated. Four days after his death, Dr King’s supporters sought to create a national holiday honouring the civil rights leader, with legislation to make the day a federal holiday passing in 1983.

The first nationwide Martin Luther King Day was observed in 1986.

While Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday, and many companies do recognise the day, it isn’t mandatory for most workplaces to give their employees a day off.

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