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Jan 17, 2023

Legislation creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday was passed forty years ago and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It was 1983. 

The late Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dominated the music, video and dance world. The Washington Redskins, which thankfully doesn’t exist anymore, won the Super Bowl. I got my driver’s license that year, and a boom box to go with it for nights when I had my parents’ car. What a year!

Forty years later, I hate driving.

Another thing that has changed significantly in the last forty years, is Dr. King’s popularity. The thought of it hadn’t crossed my mind until I came across a tweet about Gallup polling on the topic. Last January, CNN did an extensive piece on how divided America was on its view of the civil rights leader, and initially, it was hard for me to believe. 

The Gallup data has slowly but drastically changed during my fifty-five years. CNN reported that after his death in 1968: “Nearly a third (31%) say he brought (it) upon himself. Less than a majority (43%) said they were sad (38%) or angry (5%). In 2011, 94% of Americans had a favorable view of him in Gallup polling. This included an 89% favorable rating among those ages 65 and older…” 

I grew up under the assumption that MLK was beloved by every American. His importance and leadership were never questioned in my house. But data shows that our nation’s more collective and uniform love of him took time to grow.

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