Why is Martin Luther King Day in January? How to honour the date

Yasmine Leung January 13, 2022
Why is Martin Luther King Day in January? How to honour the date
Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Day takes place on the third Monday of every January, but why is the federal holiday held in that month? Read on to find out, as well as virtual events you can attend to honour the occasion.

Martin Luther King Jr is one of the leading figures in black history and the American civil rights movement, best remembered for his inspirational “I Have A Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

His legacy is celebrated every year in the US with Martin Luther King Day designated a federal holiday, which sees schools and some businesses close.

But why is Martin Luther King Day in January and not always on the same date?

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Why is Martin Luther King Day in January?

It’s because Dr King was born on 15 January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the middle child – older sister, Christine King Farris, was born 1 September 1927. She is 94 years old.

Dr King’s brother, Alfred Daniel “AD” King, was one year younger but passed away on 21 July 1969 aged 38.

So why isn’t MLK Day always on 15 January, his birthday? That’s because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act brought in by President Lyndon B Johnson, which has been effective since 1 January 1971.

The legislation amended the US federal holidays – including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and President’s Day – so they occurred on Mondays to create long weekends.

Other amended holidays:

  • President’s Day: third Monday in February (previously 22 February)
  • Memorial Day: last Monday in May (formerly 30 May)
  • Labour Day: first Monday in September (formerly 5 September)
  • Columbus Day: second Monday in October (formerly 12 October)

How to get involved in MLK Day 2022

As well as checking whether your area is holding any parades, there are many virtual events over the weekend leading up to Monday.

The Beloved Community Awards

Available to stream on official MLK non-profit website and socials The King Center, the award show honours national and international people dedicated to social justice and developing the non-profit tradition of MLK.

The event takes place on Saturday, 15 January at 7.30pm.

Urban One Honors 2022

Although not directly linked to MLK, the 2022 show will celebrate iconic African-American artists on TV One and Cleo TV on 17 January at 7pm (CT).

MLK Day Celebration 2022

The California African American Museum is remembering King’s dedication to labour and workers’ rights through a free virtual festival on Monday, 17 January from 11am to 1pm PST.

Sign up on the museum website here.

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Yasmine is a third-year Anthropology and Media student at Goldsmiths University with a new obsession with League of Legends, despite being really bad. She's always on social media keeping on top of the latest news and trends and is HITC’s expert in Korean pop culture. She also loves music, TV and fashion - her favourite things to write about.