The office coffee is still brewing extra strong as federal employees are returning from a long stretch of winter holidays.

Fortunately for those digging themselves out of email trenches, there’s a three-day weekend fast approaching to break up the January gloom.

The third Monday in January is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — a federal holiday celebrating the life and legacy of the famous civil rights activist and Baptist minister from Georgia. King, who was assassinated in 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, is known for his non-violent protests and marches for equal rights for Blacks in the U.S. who were living under Jim Crow-era segregation.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in which Dr. King called for an end to racism, is widely considered one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Dr. King was nearly immediately recognized worldwide for his leadership of the Civil Rights movement in the American South. As one of the youngest recipients at the time, King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the same year the landmark Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination on the basis race, religion or national origin.

However, it would take more than ten years for MLK Day to be considered a holiday even though legislation to codify was introduced days after his death.

The bill was first introduced by Congressman, John Conyers, a democrat from Michigan who also helped found the Congressional Black Caucus that would lend support for the move.

In 1979, the bill came up for a vote in the House and was rejected by five votes, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Republican Missouri Congressman Gene Taylor led the opposition, which cited the costs of an additional federal holiday and traditions which exclude private citizens from receiving recognition with public holidays named in their honor,” per the museum’s account of the history.

The bill came back to the House in 1983 and passed overwhelmingly. After two days of back-and-forth in the Senate, the legislation was approved and President Ronald Reagan signed it. All 50 states had made it a state government holiday by 2000.

Today, the holiday honors the memory and impact of King and is celebrated as a national day of service. Local community centers, museums, civic groups, schools and governments host educational events, poetry slams, speeches, marches and volunteer drives to raise awareness of Dr. King’s work and maintain his spirit of activism.

In Washington, D.C., the annual two-mile Peace Walk and Parade is held downtown.

This year, the 29th officially recognized MLK Day will be observed on Jan. 15, 2024, which means federal civilian employees will receive the day off from work and government offices will be closed.

There are 11 other federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Inauguration Day, George Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

The next federal holiday is Presidents’ Day on Feb. 19.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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