For Educators: Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

Activity 3: Citizens' Role in the Legislative Process

The Congressional Black Caucus, along with a coalition of organizations, appealed for nationwide support of a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Their earliest efforts included grassroots outreach. The CBC members spoke to their constituents about the legislative process surrounding the King Holiday Bill. They encouraged a movement within the communities to rally and show support for the bill. Marches and demonstrations were held across the country, and the CBC was a very visible presence at some of these demonstrations.

Before the King Holiday Bill passed in the U.S. Congress, many states enacted statewide holiday celebrations. These state-run celebrations were often used as a platform to call for a federal holiday. In January of 1983, the CBC, entertainer Stevie Wonder, and the coalition decided to call a strategy meeting instead of having a national march to press for the holiday. At the meeting, it was decided to prioritize legislative lobbying for a federal holiday. During the strategy session held in the Cannon House Office Building, the legislative strategy was outlined. The approach included direct appeals to all members of Congress from individuals, groups and organizations. The appeals would culminate in the 20th Anniversary Celebration and reenactment of King's 1963 March on Washington. The successful strategy resulted in the approval of the bill in the House of Representatives, paving the way for the next step-Senate approval.

Excerpt from the Avoice Online exhibit, Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Bill.



Begin this activity by having the students read the introduction essay. As the students read the essay, have them answer the following questions using Worksheet 3: Citizens’ Role in the Legislative Process (pdf).

•How many years did it take before the King Holiday bill became law?
•At the signing of the bill, Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, declared the King Holiday to be a holiday for whom?
•What was presented to Congress, with millions of signature, to show support for the bill?
•Why was certain individuals opposed the bill and how did Congress respond to their objections?
•By the time the bill became law, how many states declared King’s birthday a state holiday?

Documents and Primary Sources Analysis

Materials Needed:

•Poster boards
•Markers (assorted colors)
•Pencils or pens for each student

Using the National Archives analysis worksheets for photography and documents, have each group analyze their source by responding to the questions.


Allow the students 10 minutes to complete this activity.  Bring the students together for a whole group discussion about their document and the significance of it to the successful passing of the King Holiday Bill.

Online Research

Have the students conduct online research by exploring the Avoice website at to learn more about their document source and the information or individuals that are featured.

Visual Presentation

When the students complete their research, have them to create a collage to tell the story of their document. For example, where is Elizabeth, N.J. (a map); who are the “chosen freeholders of N.J; where is Vietnam and why were the soldiers celebrating Dr. King’s birthday there, etc.

Writing for a real cause

Using the Chosen Freeholders of NJ as a model, have the class prepare a resolution for a school-based or community concern and present as a signed petition to the school principal or town  official.  This is an activity that can take place over a period of time because it may require research.

Online Research: Create a map of state enacted King Holiday celebrations

Before the King Holiday bill passed in the U.S. Congress, many states enacted statewide holiday celebrations. These state-run celebrations were often used as a platform to pursue a federal holiday. However, not all states were willing to declare a statewide holiday or readily accepted the federal holiday passed by Congress.

Have the students create a map of the United States showing when each state declared a statewide holiday or recognized the federal law for a King Holiday.  The students can research Avoice online or state government web sites for information. Ask the students to note which states declared statewide celebrations before 1983 and states that accepted the federal holiday several years after the signing of the bill into law. Have the students to explain why certain states stalled accepting the federal holiday.

Display the map in the classroom for further discussions about celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King.

additional information and links.