Each year from 1968 to 1983, CBC member Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) sponsored a bill to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. a national holiday. King, regarded by the CBC as a hero and national figure, was seen by conservative elements in America as an agitator who did not deserve such an important recognition.
Debates on the House and Senate floors illustrated the emotions in support of and against memorializing King’s role in United States history. Opponents argued that the cost of adding a tenth federal holiday would negatively impact the government. Supporters argued that the costs of not honoring the country’s moral leader would be greater.
Notably, then-Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) led a filibuster to block the final vote for passage of the bill on the Senate floor in October 1983. He argued that King was a communist sympathizer.
Nevertheless, the CBC stood firm and dedicated to memorializing King’s legacy with a national holiday for the country to move forward towards equality for all.