Martin Luther King Day

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Definition of Martin Luther King Day

the third Monday in January, a legal holiday in the United States commemorating the birthday (Jan. 15) of Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Words nearby Martin Luther King Day

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day is a U.S. national holiday celebrating the birthday and life of civil rights leader and activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is also called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is often informally shortened to MLK Day. It is a federal holiday, with the official name of Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Dr. King is celebrated for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. Many people use Martin Luther King Day as a day to perform community service. It is also commonly celebrated with parades and events that honor his life and work and focus on the legacy of fighting racism and injustice.

Example: We encourage students to spend Martin Luther King Day volunteering for programs devoted to social justice and the betterment of the community.

When is Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day is always celebrated on the third Monday in January in commemoration of his birthday on January 15. In 2022, it falls on January 17. In 2023, it falls on January 16.

Where does Martin Luther King Day come from?

Dr. King is remembered as the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. during the 1950s and ’60s, including for his role in several pivotal protests, boycotts, marches, and rallies. He is especially known for his famous “I have a dream” speech during the march on Washington in 1963. Dr. King not only called for racial harmony but was also a vocal critic of the racist and unjust economic and social policies that prevent equal rights for Black people and other people of color. Such outspoken criticism made him a target of harassment and threats of violence by white supremacists and the FBI, and he was murdered in 1968 at the age of 39.

The first proposal for a holiday honoring him came that year, but it wasn’t until 1983 that Martin Luther King Day was officially adopted as a federal holiday. It wasn’t observed as a holiday by every U.S. state until 2000. Displaying the kind of deeply entrenched racism that Dr. King spent his life fighting, some states opted to call it by other names, with some even combining the holiday with one honoring Confederate leaders.

Because Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday, many schools and workplaces are closed on the day. Volunteer and activist organizations sometimes refer to it as a day on rather than a day off as a way of encouraging people to treat it as a day of service rather than a vacation day. Many students spend the day working on community service projects or volunteering for local organizations.

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What are some other forms related to Martin Luther King Day?

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (alternate name)
  • MLK Day (informal shortened name)
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (official name)

What are some words that often get used in discussing Martin Luther King Day?

How is Martin Luther King Day used in real life?

Martin Luther King Day is known as a day to honor Dr. King and his legacy by performing community service and pursuing ways to achieve the racial justice that he envisioned. It’s commonly called MLK Day for short.


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True or False?

Martin Luther King Day was officially adopted as a federal holiday in 1968.

How to use Martin Luther King Day in a sentence