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Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first proposed as a federal holiday four-days after Dr. King was assassinated. It would take another 15-years for the third Monday of January to officially become the American federal holiday we now call Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The holiday celebrates the birthday (January 15th) of its name sake. Dr. King was a civil rights leader that fought for equality and freedom for all Americans, regardless of race, creed, or color. He preached love and non-violence in the face of unspeakable hate and violence.

gty_martin_luther_king_1965_color_ss-thg_130114_ssh hqdefaultDr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, perhaps best describes the meaning of the holiday on the King’s Center website. “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.”