President Ronald Reagan signs a bill establishing a federal holiday in honour of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
1983 (Nov 2)
President Ronald Reagan signed a bill at the White House establishing a federal holiday in honour of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The president also paid personal tribute to King, saying his words and deeds had “stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul.” Reagan continued: “Dr. King made equality of rights his life's work. ... Often he was beaten, imprisoned, but he never stopped teaching nonviolence. ... If American history grows from two centuries to 20, Americans and others will still remember King's 'I Have a Dream' speech.” The president warned, however, that “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 shalt love thy God with all thy heart and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” Many Americans, including soul singer Stevie Wonder (who composed and recorded a birthday song honoring King) and Coretta Scott King, the slain civil rights leader's widow, had lobbied for the holiday (which was to begin on the third Monday in January 1986) since King's assassination in 1968. At the White House ceremonies at which the president signed the holiday bill, Mrs. King remarked: “Thank God for the blessing of his [King's] 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 [beloved] community.”