Today as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it’s noteworthy to remember the National Holiday got a huge boost from the man who would become Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. When he was an Illinois state legislator in 1973, Harold introduced a bill in Springfield to recognize Dr. King’s birthday. The bill passed the house and senate and was signed into law by Governor Dan Walker later that year, making Illinois the first state to declare it a holiday.
The rest of the country was much slower to come round but helped by a national campaign led by Dr. King’s wife Coretta and tireless supporters like Washington, who would eventually become a congressman and spokespeople such as Stevie Wonder, a bill to recognize the day was finally signed into law by President Reagan in 1983 and celebrated nationally for the first time January 20, 1986.
So a tip of the hat to Mayor Washington and our state for being out ahead of things and a spin to Stevie’s song that gave the campaign a joyful soundtrack.
Happy Birthday to ya!