Monday, January 17, 2011

What's The Occasion? Dr. King Day

Although the holiday had its genesis in the weeks following King's assassination in April 1968, it would be fifteen years before Congress forced President Ronald Reagan (who was personally opposed to it) to sign the act - sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) - into law during a predictably tense November 1983 ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. The overwhelming support for the holiday in Congress (338-90) and the Senate (78-22) meant that Reagan's threatened veto of the bill could not go ahead; Reagan's own Vice-President and hand-picked successor George H. W. Bush later expanded the celebration of King's Birthday.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThat, of course, was a major victory, but not the end of the struggle by any means. Continuing to lead the charge against it were some of the usual suspects - Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) naturally covered his bigotry with a lie, suggesting King wasn't important enough. Arizona Governor Fife Symington III was also opposed to the honour, leading the campaign against the day in that state, to the extent that the NFL boycotted Arizona when it was due to host Super Bowl XXVII.

The states which held out the longest were New Hampshire, Arizona, and Utah (which until 2000 called it 'Human Rights Day'); that same year, lawmakers in Virginia changed the name of Lee-Jackson-King Day to reflect the incongruity of celebrating a civil rights leader's birthday alongside those of two Confederate generals. This despite the fact that Virginia had been the first state to elect an African-American governor, L. Douglas Wilder, in January 1990.
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