While Martin Luther King Jr. is the only African-American with a federal holiday in his honor, only two Caucasian individuals share this distinction. These holidays recognize the importance and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law on November 2, 1983. This was 15 years after Congressman John Conyers Jr. first introduced legislation to turn Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s January 15 birthday into a paid federal holiday. For a decade and a half, supporters including politicians, celebrities, and citizens, led by Dr. King's widow Coretta Scott King, had struggled to get the bill passed. Members of the House and Senate had fought the proposal. Although Dr. King's race was the likely reason that they objected to the creation of the holiday, they officially cited his alleged ties to communism and extramarital affairs as the reasons that he should not be one of a very select few to receive such an honor, according to TIME.
After the bill's opponents were defeated, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first celebrated by 27 states and the District of Columbia on the third Monday of January in 1986. It was not until the year 2000, when South Carolina signed a bill recognizing the holiday, that the entire country celebrated together. With this, Martin Luther King Jr. Day joined Washington's Birthday and Columbus Day as federal holidays honoring the contributions of men who changed America.