The rocky history of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Arizona
Jan 20, 2020, 8:00 AM | Updated: 1:08 pm
PHOENIX — Some of us will not be working on Monday as it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the holiday was not always recognized in Arizona.
In fact, Arizona was one of the last states to recognize it.
Arizona began working to create a holiday in King’s honor in the early 1970s, just a few years after he was assassinated, but every measure failed.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill that created a national holiday to honor King, arguably one of the most famous civil rights leaders of all time.
The holiday was observed for the first time in the United States on Jan. 20, 1986.
Then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed an executive order in May 1986, declaring the third Monday in January of every year should honor King.
However, just before the holiday in 1987, then-Gov. Evan Mecham made it his first act to rescind the proclamation that he argued was created illegally by Babbitt. The state’s attorney general agreed.
Mecham instead issued a proclamation of his own that said King — along with the entire Civil Rights Movement — would be honored on the third Sunday of every January, meaning workers would not get a paid day off.
That move spurned boycotts of Arizona by major artists and wound up costing the state millions in possible investments.
Despite the negative reaction, Arizona voted against the creation of the holiday in 1990.
But two years later — amid the decision by the National Football League to pull the upcoming Super Bowl because it did not want to deal with potential fallout — Arizona voters went back to the polls and approved a measure to create the holiday.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day as we know it today was first marked in Arizona in 1993.
The NFL said it would return with a Super Bowl after voters passed the law. True to its word, the league brought the big game to the Valley in 1996.