Special Emphasis Observances
It took 15 years to create the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, first introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968. After the bill became stalled, petitions endorsing the holiday containing six million names were submitted to Congress. Conyers and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Democrat of New York, resubmitted King holiday legislation each subsequent legislative session. Public pressure for the holiday mounted during the 1982 and 1983 civil rights marches in Washington. Congress passed the holiday legislation in 1983, which was then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. A compromise moving the holiday from Jan. 15, King's birthday, which was considered too close to Christmas and New Year's, to the third Monday in January helped overcome opposition to the law. January 20, 1986 marked the first observance of the Federal legal holiday, established by Public Law 98-144, honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A number of states resisted celebrating the holiday. Some opponents said King did not deserve his own holiday, contending that the entire civil rights movement rather than one individual, however instrumental, should be honored. Several southern states include celebrations for various Confederate generals on that day, while Utah calls it Human Rights Day. Legislation is now pending to change the name to Martin Luther King Day. Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992 after a threatened tourist boycott. In 1999, New Hampshire changed the name of Civil Rights Day to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.
This holiday, which occurs on the third Monday in January each year, was established to serve as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Black History Month is a federally recognized, nation-wide celebration during the month of February. The celebration provides an opportunity for all Americans to reflect upon the many contributions of the millions of African Americans.
In 1926, the noted African American historian, Carter G. Woodson, initiated "Negro History Week" to increase public awareness and appreciation of the significant role African Americans played in the shaping of our country. He chose February for the observance because February twelfth was Abraham Lincoln's birthday and February fourteenth was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass.
In 1976, during the bicentennial celebration of our country, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month and what is sometimes referred to as African American Heritage Month.
History notes on Carter G. Woodson: http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/woodson.html
In 1979, Molly Murphy MacGregor, then the Director of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, was invited to a Women's History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College to discuss the importance of using Women's History Week as a focal celebration to recognize and celebrate women's historic accomplishments. They agreed to work toward securing an official Congressional Resolution that would declare the week of March 8th as "National Women's History Week."
In March of 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Message to the American people, encouraging the recognition and celebration of women's historic accomplishments during the week of March 8th, Women's History Week. By the end of 1980, then Representative Barbara
Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had co-sponsored the first Joint congressional Resolution that declared the week of March 8th in 1981 as National Women's History Week.
In 1987, at the request of women's organizations, museums, libraries, youth leaders, and educators throughout the country, the National Women's History Project successfully petitioned
Congress to expand the national celebrations to the entire month of March. A National Women's History Month Resolution was quickly approved with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Since 1992, a Presidential Proclamation has carried the directive for what is now a major national and international celebration.
May is Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Montha celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in 1843. Much like Black History and Women's History celebrations, APA Heritage Month originated in a congressional bill put forward by legislators.
In June 1977, Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California
introduced a House resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of
May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and
Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed.
On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution declaring the first Asian Pacific American Heritage Week as May 4-10, 1979.
In May 1990, the holiday was expanded further when President George H. W. Bush signed an extension making the week long celebration into a month-long. Finally, Public-Law 102-450 approved on October 23, 1992, designated May of each year Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 because this day marks the anniversary of independence for five Hispanic countriesCosta Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico achieved independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18.
October marks Disability Employment Awareness Month, a federally recognized designation that calls attention to the issues people with disabilities face, particularly in employment. The month is sponsored by President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
Congress passed Resolution No. 176 in 1945, designating the first week in October of each year as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, a change in terminology replaced "handicap" with "disability" and "physically" was removed from the weeks' name to recognize the employment needs of all persons with disabilities. In 1988 Congress expanded the week to a month and changed its name to A National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of this Nation has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose. But, it has been a long and winding trail that has taken many turns during the last 84 years that has not resulted in an "official day" of recognition.
For many years, Indians and non-Indians have urged that a special day be set aside to honor America's first citizens. From time to time, legislation was proposed in the U.S. Congress that would designate the Fourth Friday in September of each year as American Indian Day. There has also been legislation that would establish a Native American Awareness Week the fourth week in September. Introduction of these bills, none of which were passed by Congress, resulted in modern day almanacs listing the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day under the heading "Day usually observed -- not legal holidays".
One of the very first proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the Director of the Museum of Arts and Science, Rochester, NY. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans", and for three years they adopted such a day. In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, formally approved a plan. It directed its President, the Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to observe such a day. He issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.
The year before this proclamation was issued, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for the celebration of a day in honor of Indians. He later presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House on December 14, 1915. However, there is no record of such a national day being proclaimed.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the Second Saturday in May 1916, by the Governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, it became that day by legislative enactment in 1919. In Massachusetts, in accordance with a law passed in1935, the Governor issued a proclamation naming the day that will become American Indian Day for any given year. Presently, several states have designated Columbus day as Native American Day, but, it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a legal holiday.
Presidential Proclamations designating National Native American Heritage Month
Since 1995, President Clinton has issued a proclamation, each year, designating the month of November as "National American Indian Heritage Month".
On November 5, 1994, President Clinton issued a proclamation based on Senate Joint Resolution 271, designating the month of November 1994 as "National American Indian Heritage Month".
On March 2, 1992, President Bush issued a proclamation designating 1992 as the "Year of the American Indian" based on legislation by Congress (Public Law 102-188).
On August 3, 1990, a Joint Resolution designating the month of November 1990 as "National American Indian Heritage Month" was approved by President Bush, becoming Public Law 101-343 (104 Stat. 391).
On December 5, 1989, President Bush issued a proclamation base on Senate Joint Resolution 218, designating the week of December 3-9, 1989, as "National American Indian Heritage Week".
On September 23, 1988, President Reagan signed a Senate Joint Resolution designating September 23-30, as "National American Indian Heritage Week".
In 1987, the week of November 22-28 was proclaimed as "American Indian Week" by President Reagan, pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 53. Prior to that, President Reagan had twice earlier designated an American Indian Day or Week. In 1986, he signed Senate Joint Resolution 390, which designated November 23-30 as "American Indian Week"; and during his first term he named May13, 1983, as "American Indian Day".
In 1976, Senate Joint Resolution 209 authorized the President to proclaim the week of October10-16, 1976, as "Native American Awareness Week".
N.A.I.A.N. Heritage Month
Smithsonian calendar of events for Heritage Month Celebrations: