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7:36 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

MLK: Arizona's rocky road with King holiday spans decades

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Four days later, a congressman from Michigan introduced the first legislation to create a holiday in King's honor. After a decade and a half of new and renewed efforts, the federal government established the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

The first official national observance was in 1986, and by then a hair more than half the nation's states had established statewide holidays. It wasn't until 1999, though, that all 50 states were on board.

In 1992, Arizona became the first state with a voter-approved iteration of the holiday after a string of controversies. There were last-minute opt-outs, political about-faces and executive orders that undermined executive orders that undermined state legislators - to say nothing of the infamous 1990 debacle in which Arizona lost Super Bowl XXVII to California.

The following is a partial catalog of watershed moments, primarily culled from a list on the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records' website and state newspaper archives, in the state and nation's rocky relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

• April 4, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.

• April 8, 1968, U.S. Rep. John Conyers introduces the first federal legislation to establish a national holiday honoring King. Congress took no action, and Conyers introduces similar legislation for years to come.

• Jan. 17, 1972, Arizona Sen. Cloves Campbell introduces the first state legislation to establish a statewide holiday honoring King. It died in committee. Multiple bills, most of which die in committee, follow in the next dozen years.

• Nov. 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signs legislation establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day following a 338-90 vote in the U.S. Congress and a 78-22 vote in the U.S. Senate. Arizona's three House Republicans get national attention for their nay votes, including current senator and former GOP presidential nominee John McCain.

• Jan. 20, 1986, Americans observe the first national Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• May 9, 1986, the Arizona Legislature rejects legislation to create a statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Day and roll celebration of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays into Presidents Day.

• May 18, 1986, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt signs an executive order establishing a statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• Jan. 12, 1987, newly elected Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham signs an executive order nullifying Babbitt's previous order. Mecham claims the Governor's Office doesn't have the authority to declare state holidays.

• June 18, 1987, Mecham issues a proclamation establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, although this doesn't create an official, paid holiday.

• Sept. 21, 1989, the Arizona Legislature creates a statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Day while eliminating Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Three days later, Tempe architect Julian Sanders and Italian-American groups launch a petition to take the issues to the voters.

• May 17, 1990, the Arizona Legislature creates a statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Day while repealing the Columbus Day elimination. This issue is stilling going to voters, however.

• Nov. 6, 1990, Arizona voters reject a pair of proposals, one of which would've created a statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Day while eliminating Columbus Day as a paid holiday, and another that would've resulted in paid holidays in honor of King and Columbus. Shortly thereafter, the National Football League moves the Arizona-earmarked site of the 1993 Super Bowl XXVII to California, largely in response to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day controversy.

• March 12, 1991, the Arizona Legislature votes to bring the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday back to voters, this time alongside the Washington and Lincoln birthday roll into Presidents Day.

• Nov. 3, 1992, Arizona voters accept the proposal, marking the first voter-approved state celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• Jan. 18, 1993, Arizonans observe the newly established Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• June 7, 1999, New Hampshire Governor Jean Shaheen signs legislation establishing statewide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now all 50 states observe the holiday, although some by different names.

Note: All Arizona state and U.S. representatives were contacted for this story. Although some were unable to arrange interviews, many didn't reply to phone calls and emails.