Today marks the day he was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39. King championed racial justice and equality, inspiring others and leading by example while promoting nonviolent resistance.
King was not afraid to sacrifice his own freedom in an effort to secure freedoms for others, going to jail 29 times on charges related to his work as a civil rights leader. After King’s death, U.S. Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Edward Brooke (R-MA) introduced a bill to make the famed orator’s birthday a national holiday. But holidays honoring private citizens such as Dr. King contradicted a longstanding tradition, and the bill failed to pass when it was first up for vote in 1979.
Despite opposition from prominent politicians, including North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who opposed naming a federal holiday after King because of the latter’s opposition to the Vietnam War, the bill was eventually signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.