And thank you Stevie Wonder.
As we take the time to celebrate the life of a man who did so much to help African-Americans gain their civil rights, we’d also like to thank a music legend for his role in making sure we have this day to celebrate in the first place.
How many of us use Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday” to serenade friends and family on their special day? But, how many know the story behind it?
After a bill fell five votes short in 1979 to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, members of The King Center went into the community to gain support. Enter Stevie Wonder.
Stevie came up with a plan to hold a rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. where people would speak on why Dr. King’s birthday needed to be nationally recognized. On January 15, 1981, the rally took place where political figures, like Rev. Jesse Jackson, and cultural icons, like spoken-word poet Gil Scott-Heron, were in attendance. In addition, there was a crowd of more than 100,000 people who made the journey.
After Stevie Wonder gave a speech saying “We ought to have a way to honor this human being and reaffirm the ideals he lived and died for…” he summed it up with four words:
“Happy birthday to ya. Happy birthday to ya. Happpppy Birrrrthdaaaay!”
The song was even a feature on Stevie’s Hotter Than July tour as a way to continue spreading the word about establishing MLK Day.
Thanks to a community effort, on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that made Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday.
To take it a step further, the national Martin Luther King Day of Service was turned into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 where volunteers donate their time to make a difference. So, for those of us who have the day off, why not do something positive in your community to honor Dr. King?
- Video: Stevie Wonder reflects on MLK
- Audio: Gil Scott-Heron slideshow about campaign to start MLK Day
- Artcle: Obama family service project on MLK Day