On July 29, 1983, Indiana congresswoman Katie Hall introduced House Resolution (H.R.) 3706, a bill to amend Title 5 of the United States Code to make the birthday of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., a national holiday. The bill was subsequently passed by the House and Senate with veto-proof margins and signed into law on November 2, 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.
Although a worthy and welcome historical event, like most achievements of its kind, success did not come overnight. Legislation to honor Dr. King by establishing a national holiday in his name was first introduced by Congressman John Conyers in 1968, just four days after Dr. King’s assassination. Conyers and supporters of the legislation were unsuccessful in 1968. Undeterred, Conyers, who co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1965, attempted several times thereafter with CBC support to pass the legislation to no immediate avail.
In 1979, the measure was introduced in the Senate for the first time by two white senators, Ted Kennedy (MA) and Birch Bay (IN). Central to the Senators’ efforts to pass the King holiday legislation were three Senate staffers, all Omega men: Fred Williams (1960 Zeta Tau), Reginal Gilliam (1962 Beta), and Peter Parham (1965 Psi Epsilon). Brother Peter Parham spent much of his professional life in Washington, D.C. and is a member of Alpha Omega chapter. In 1979, Brother Parham was the Special Assistant to Senator Ted Kennedy and was one of only six Black congressional staffers on Capitol Hill at the time (three were Omega men and two were women). Brothers Williams and Gilliam held similar positions with Senators Birch Bay and John Glenn (OH), respectively.
Brothers Williams, Gilliam, and Parham played key roles in organizing the efforts in support of the measure, drafting the legislation language, and debating the merits of the legislation in committee. Although the measure did not pass, history recognizes this 1979 effort as a significant and perhaps final blow to the King holiday opposition, clearing the way for the passage of H.R. 3706 in 1983, making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday a national holiday once and for all.
Yesterday, Brother Fred Williams who is now an editor, writer, blogger, and historian, penned “Making History with the King Holiday Legislation.” Please make time to read this revealing firsthand account of this very important history. Brother Williams’ piece can be found at https://thewriterfred.com/.
Happy MLK Day and make it a great week Brothers. Be noble!
3rd District History and Archives Committee
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