Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Business & Finance
  3. Small Business

President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Day law November 2, 1983

See also

President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Day law on November 2, 1983.

Rewriting or changing history is a very bad idea. It is also fraud. There have been accounts of the history of Dr. Martin Luther King Day that are not accurate. The truth can be never changed. President Ronald Reagan signed the law that made Martin Luther King Day a reality in 1983. Vice President George Bush led the commission that studied the feasibility of having a national holiday in honor of Dr. King. He presented the commission’s findings to President Reagan.

January 20, 1986, was the first official Martin Luther King Day. It is true that some states and local governments refused to honor the holiday. Greenville, South Carolina, still does not recognize the holiday. However, to alter or change how the law came into being is to rewrite history. Coretta Scott King stood beside President Reagan as he signed the law. She thanked President Reagan for honoring her husband. Any attempt to alter or change that truth is wrong.

Here from the Library of Congress public record for November 2, 1983, is the verbatim record of what President Reagan and Mrs. King said on the day the law was signed:

President Ronald Reagan: Mrs. King, members of the King family, distinguished Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, I'm very pleased to welcome you to the White House, the home that belongs to all of us, the American people.

When I was thinking of the contributions to our country of the man that we're honoring today, a passage attributed to the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier comes to mind. "Each crisis brings its word and deed." In America, in the fifties and sixties, one of the important crises we faced was racial discrimination. The man whose words and deeds in that crisis stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King was born in 1929 in an America where, because of the color of their skin, nearly 1 in 10 lived lives that were separate and unequal. Most black Americans were taught in segregated schools. Across the country, too many could find only poor jobs, toiling for low wages. They were refused entry into hotels and restaurants, made to use separate facilities. In a nation that proclaimed liberty and justice for all, too many black Americans were living with neither.

In one city, a rule required all blacks to sit in the rear of public buses. But in 1955, when a brave woman named Rosa Parks was told to move to the back of the bus, she said, "No." A young minister in a local Baptist church, Martin Luther King, then organized a boycott of the bus company—a boycott that stunned the country. Within 6 months the courts had ruled the segregation of public transportation unconstitutional.

Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."

In the years after the bus boycott, Dr. King made equality of rights his life's work. Across the country, he organized boycotts, rallies, and marches. Often he was beaten, imprisoned, but he never stopped teaching nonviolence. "Work with the faith", he told his followers, "that unearned suffering is redemptive." In 1964 Dr. King became the youngest man in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. King's work brought him to this city often. And in one sweltering August day in 1963, he addressed a quarter of a million people at the Lincoln Memorial. If American history grows from two centuries to twenty, his words that day will never be forgotten. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."

In 1968 Martin Luther King was gunned down by a brutal assassin, his life cut short at the age of 39. But those 39 short years had changed America forever. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had guaranteed all Americans equal use of public accommodations, equal access to programs financed by Federal funds, and the right to compete for employment on the sole basis of individual merit. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had made certain that from then on black Americans would get to vote. But most important, there was not just a change of law; there was a change of heart. The conscience of America had been touched. Across the land, people had begun to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans.

And since Dr. King's death, his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and his wife, Coretta King, have eloquently and forcefully carried on his work. Also his family have joined in that cause.

Now our nation has decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by setting aside a day each year to remember him and the just cause he stood for. We've made historic strides since Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. As a democratic people, we can take pride in the knowledge that we Americans recognized a grave injustice and took action to correct it. And we should remember that in far too many countries, people like Dr. King never have the opportunity to speak out at all.

But traces of bigotry still mar America. So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us—if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King's dream comes true, and in his words, "All of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, '... land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'"

Thank you, God bless you, and I will sign it.

Mrs. King: Thank you, Mr. President, Vice President Bush, Majority Leader Baker and the distinguished congressional and senatorial delegations, and other representatives who've gathered here, and friends.

All right-thinking people, all right-thinking Americans are joined in spirit with us this day as the highest recognition which this nation gives is bestowed upon Martin Luther King, Jr., one who also was the recipient of the highest recognition which the world bestows, the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his own life's example, he symbolized what was right about America, what was noblest and best, what human beings have pursued since the beginning of history. He loved unconditionally. He was in constant pursuit of truth, and when he discovered it, he embraced it. His nonviolent campaigns brought about redemption, reconciliation, and justice. He taught us that only peaceful means can bring about peaceful ends, that our goal was to create the love community.

America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, a more peaceful nation because Martin Luther King, Jr., became her preeminent nonviolent commander. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his spirit live within all of us. Thank God for the blessing of his life and his leadership and his commitment. What manner of man was this? May we make ourselves worthy to carry on his dream and create the love community. Thank you.

The President spoke at 11:06 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. As enacted, H.R. 3706 is Public Law 98-144, approved November 2, 1983.

For those leaders, student leaders, entertainers, and public citizens who had fought since April 4, 1968, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King with a national holiday November 2, 1983, was a day to remember forever.

History cannot be changed. What is past is prologue. President Reagan promised to sign the law and he kept his promise. He was a man of his word. He was a man of integrity. He knew that Martin Luther King gave his life to make America a stronger nation for his children and for all Americans.

Happy Martin Luther King Day, America.

Americans will celebrate Martin Luther King Day on Monday January 20, 2014.

All Federal offices will honor Martin Luther King Day. All District of Columbia city offices will be closed to honor Dr. King.

Advertisement

News

  • Jar-Jar is more popular than Congress
    A new poll shows Jar-Jar Binks is more popular than Congress
    Video
    Video
  • Missing girl found
    After 9 months of being missing, Abigail Hernandez is back with her family
    US News
  • Tree destroyed by beetles
    A tree meant to honor Beatle George Harrison has been destroyed by beetles
    Top News
  • Mystery flags on bridge
    Mysterious white flags have replaced the American ones on the Brooklyn Bridge
    New York
  • Weird Al album debut
    Weird Al's new album has officially debuted at no. 1
    Music
  • Broncos owner resigns
    Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has resigned due to Alzheimer's
    Sports