Martin Luther King Day Is Now More Popular Than Presidents Day

(Bloomberg) -- Americans are more likely to get a day off to honor the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., than they are for holidays remembering Christopher Columbus or George Washington.

About 42 percent of American employers will close on Jan. 15 in observance of the civil rights leader’s birthday, according to an annual survey by Bloomberg Law. The U.S. stock market is closed, as it is for the slightly less popular Presidents Day. (It is open on Columbus Day and Veterans Day.)

“I would suppose that there’s more recognition for the need of diversity and the need to recognize the sensitivity of certain holidays,” N. Charles Anderson, the chief executive officer of the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan, said in an interview.

A fight for racial equality has taken on new urgency in parts of the U.S. as President Donald Trump has focused on restricting immigration, particularly for non-white people, and made comments seen as sympathetic to white nationalists. On Thursday, the day before he welcomed African-American leaders to the White House to honor Martin Luther King Day, Trump came under fire for reportedly disparaging immigrants from Africa and Haiti.

Martin Luther King Day Is Now More Popular Than Presidents Day

“I encourage all Americans to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service activities in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy,” Trump said in a tweet Friday after a ceremony at the White House.

Among civil and nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, schools, and municipalities, 72 percent will grant employees a day off with pay in honor of Dr. King’s birthday. Far fewer manufacturing businesses -- 16 percent -- will do the same. Roughly one in three non-manufacturing businesses, such as financial service and insurance companies, will offer a paid holiday.

Martin Luther King Day Is Now More Popular Than Presidents Day

The holiday has its roots in Michigan. Four days after King was killed in April 1968, Representative John Conyers, a Democrat, introduced legislation to make King’s birthday a federal holiday. President Ronald Reagan eventually signed Conyers’ bill into law in 1983. The holiday wasn’t observed until 1986, and some states refused to honor it until as recently as 2000.

“It is still treated as a second-tier holiday,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor historian at the University of California at Berkeley. “In light of what Trump said [Thursday], we really should elevate it in a way that it really becomes central. This is a key time in history to be celebrating his values.”

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