James and Jewelle Gibbs of Oakland, CA, find their IDs for entry to the ground breaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington (Photo : Reuters)
Martin Luther King once said, "Change does not roll in on wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."
Change. The word that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 chimed with a different resonance today, as Martin Luther King Day merged with the first African American commander-in-chief's second inauguration. Whereas Mr. Obama was carried by the momentum of anti-war activism and the desire to recharge a declining economy during his first term, the president's new oath promises enhanced gun regulation and comprehensive immigration reform, among other things. The symbolic serendipity of the two landmark events was not lost among anyone in the sprawling crowd, which cascaded from the president's pulpit to the Washington Monument. While we are all aware of Martin Luther King (MLK), most are ignorant to where the holiday that bears his name originated.
Here's the story.
The MLK Day bill was first presented to Congress in 1968 by Michigan Congressman John Conyers, but it failed to gain any traction at the time. It wasn't until 1979 that the plea to consecrate Jan. 15 in the name of King reemerged, but was defeated in Congress by a handful of votes. Once again in 1980, the holiday came up to vote in the House, but this time passed, moving on to the Senate. It took another three years before the bill was approved, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1983. The law came into effect in 1986, codifying the civil rights leader's name into the fabric of American culture.
As for the timing of the inauguration, presidential precedent dictates that if the official inauguration day of January 20 falls on a Sunday, then the public ceremony is typically held on Monday, according to USA Today. Chuck Schumer's office told the publication that "This is the seventh time in U.S. history that the constitutionally mandated inauguration date has fallen on a Sunday...The last time was for president Ronald Reagan's second inauguration in 1985."
As Coretta Scott King said when Reagan inked the bill with his mark, "This is not a black holiday; it is a people's holiday."