35 Years Ago, Ronald Reagan Made MLK's Birthday a National Holiday

January 15, 2018Jan 15, 2018

It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which Congressman John Conyers, the Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, who loved the holiday. 

During his remarks on signing the bill, President Ronald Reagan remarked that the 1950s and 1960s were in part defined by the important crisis of racial discrimination. It was King, claimed Reagan, who helped stir the nation to the very depth of its soul into reconsidering what it meant for all people to be "equal."

Among these ways that King helped the country reconsider what equality meant, says Reagan, was King's important role in inspiring Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

According to Reagan, "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had guaranteed all Americans equal use of public accommodations, equal access to programs financed by Federal funds, and the right to compete for employment on the sole basis of individual merit. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had made certain that from then on black Americans would get to vote. But most importantly, there was not just a change of law; there was a change of heart. The conscience of America had been touched. Across the land, people had begun to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans."

Ronald Reagan then praised the nation for making historic strides in achieving greater racial equality.

"As a democratic people, we can take pride in the knowledge that we Americans recognized a grave injustice and took action to correct it," he said. "And we should remember that in far too many countries, people like Dr. King never have the opportunity to speak out at all."

But then Reagan remarked that the taces of bigotry still mar America. As a result, he urged Americans to not only recall the great legacy of Dr. King on this national holiday but also to rededicate ourselves to the Christian principles that King lived his life by — to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor, regardless of skin color. 

"But traces of bigotry still mar America," Reagan claimed. "So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself."

Throughout his presidency, Ronald Reagan repeatedly emphasized the importance of tolerance and racial equality. In this video shared today by NBC News, for instance, Reagan addresses the nation on Martin Luther King Day. 


According to National Review, Reagan used the 1970s to exhort fellow Republicans to address the party's failure to attract black voters. In fact, in the 1977 Conservative Political Action Conference, He said that "We [Republicans] believe in treating all Americans as individuals, not as stereotypes or voting blocs." 

Then, speaking at the Urban League in August 1980, immediately after winning the GOP's presidential nomination, Reagan claimed that he is "committed to the protection and enforcement of the civil rights of black Americans."

In the video below, see President Ronald Reagan's comments on MLK Day.

In recent news, here are the top ten most iconic Martin Luther King Jr. quotes.

Next: Here Are The 10 Most Iconic Martin Luther King Jr. QuotesJan 15, 2018