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A Day on, Not a Day Off

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Wells Walker
  • 110 Air Wing Equal Opportunity Office
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 and went on to become one of the greatest social activists the world has ever known. At 35, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace prize. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while making a speech from the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.

On Monday, January 20th, 1986, people celebrated the first official Martin Luther King Day, the only federal holiday commemorating an African-American. Through the 1980's, controversy surrounded the idea of a Martin Luther King Day. Congressmen and citizens alike petitioned the President to make January 15th, Martin Luther King's birthday, a federal holiday. However, some wanted to acknowledge the day he died instead, while others didn't want to acknowledge Dr. King at all. January 15th had been observed as a legal holiday for many years in 27 states and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared the third Monday in January a federal holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.

Schools, offices and federal agencies are closed for the holiday. On Monday there are quiet memorial services as well as elaborate ceremonies in honor of Dr. King. On the preceding Sunday, ministers of all religions give special sermons reminding everyone of Dr. King's lifelong work for peace. All weekend, radio stations play songs and speeches that tell the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Television specials and internet videos also broadcast highlights of Dr. King's life.

According to the Department of Defense and the King Center, the theme of Martin Luther King's Birthday is "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not a Day Off!" With that theme in mind, many consider it a day to serve their community. For example, a record number of Americans honored Dr. King and answered President Obama's call to service by volunteering on January 19th King Day of Service 2009. More than 13,000 service projects took place across the country, more than double the previous year. Americans made it "a day on, not a day off" by delivering meals, refurbishing schools, reading to children, signing up as mentors and much more. For more information on these special observances visit or