Is Martin Luther King Day a national holiday? When do we celebrate it?
One of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement is remembered with a federal holiday.
Every year the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King is designated as a federal holiday to pay respect to the man who played such a pivotal role in the civil rights and social justice movements. Monday, 17 January 2022 marks the 35th year of the celebration that was introduced to remember King’s lifetime of public work.
As well as being a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day is also known as a day of service when Americans are encouraged to volunteer with charitable organisations to help their communities. In King’s honour the third Monday in January is “a day on, not a day off” and millions carry out philanthropic acts in King’s memory.
Why is Martin Luther King Day celebrated?
Martin Luther King was born in 1929 into a country divided by racial segregation in many states. He was the son of early civil rights activist Martin Luther King Sr., and participated in protest movements from a young age.
He grew to national prominence in 1955 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. He is probably most famous for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
MLK Day is one of only two official federal holidays to take place on someone’s birthday, with the other being the observance of George Washington’s birthday. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Day began in some cities and states as early as 1971, but it wasn’t until 1986 that President Ronald Reagan made it a federal holiday.
Will banks, shops, schools and businesses be open on Martin Luther King Day?
Certain businesses and institutions across the country will not be open on 18 January 2021 to mark Martin Luther King Day 2021. However while federal services are largely closed, many private businesses choose to stay open and this year is no different.
As one of the United States’ ten federal holidays banks across the country will be closed all day, as will all government-run buildings like Post Offices and local public libraries. The same goes for education with most K-12 schools, colleges and universities not holding classes on MLK Day.
The only federal sites that will remain open to the public on 18 January are National Parks which usually experience a bump of visitors for the day. This is helped by free entry in many cases, with admission fees waived by many National Parks.
In contrast most private businesses are likely to be open as they look to make the most of an extra day of downtime for Americans. In general chain grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, and other retailers tend to stay open, while independent businesses are more likely to be closed.