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Origin of Dr. MLK Day Law

Location: 1927 Madison St., Gary, IN 46407 (Lake County, Indiana)

Installed 2019 Indiana Historical Bureau, KHEF, Inc., Atty. Junifer Hall, Atty. Jacqueline Hall, and Law Office of Deacon-Atty. John Henry Hall, Husband-Benefactor, A Family Team

ID#: 45.2019.1

 Visit the Indiana History Blog to learn more about Representative Hall and the fight for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

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Side One

Rep. Katie Hall (1938-2012)

Democratic leader Katie Hall was born in rural Mississippi and moved to Indiana in 1960. She taught in Gary before serving in the Indiana General Assembly, 1974-82. Hall became the first African American U.S. Representative from Indiana, serving 1982-85. During her tenure, she authored and sponsored the bill that made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday.

Side Two

Origin of Dr. MLK Day Law

The struggle to make Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday began soon after the civil rights leader’s death in 1968. Growing interest, publicity, and advocacy helped Representative Hall secure passage of a bill in 1983. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law that November, designating every third Monday in January as the holiday. Celebration began in 1986.

Annotated Text

Side One:

Rep. Katie Hall (1938-2012)

Democratic leader Katie Hall was born in rural Mississippi and moved to Indiana in 1960.[1] She taught in Gary before serving in the Indiana General Assembly, 1974-82.[2] Hall became the first African American U.S. Representative from Indiana, serving 1982-85.[3] During her tenure, she authored and sponsored the bill that made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday.[4]

Side Two:

Origin of Dr. MLK Day Law:

The struggle to make Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday began soon after the civil rights leader’s death in 1968.[5] Growing interest, publicity, and advocacy helped Representative Hall secure passage of a bill in 1983.[6] President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law that November, designating every third Monday in January as the holiday.[7] Celebration began in 1986.[8]

 

[1] Justin E. Walsh, ed. “Hall, Katie Beatrice Greene,” A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly Volume 2, 1900-1984, (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1984), 169; Alan F. January and Justin E. Walsh, A Century of Achievement: Black Hoosiers in the Indiana General Assembly. 1881-1986 (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the General Assembly, 1986), 50.

Katie Beatrice Hall, was born on April 3, 1938 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Jim Crow laws prohibited her from voting in the state, and in 1960 when she and her husband moved to Gary, Indiana, Hall quickly registered to vote. She became active in politics, campaigning locally for Mayor Richard Hatcher and President John F. Kennedy.

[2] Justin E. Walsh, ed. “Hall, Katie Beatrice Greene,” A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly Volume 2, 1900-1984 (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1984), 169; Alan F. January and Justin E. Walsh, A Century of Achievement: Black Hoosiers in the Indiana General Assembly, 1881-1986 (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the General Assembly, 1986), 50; Justin E. Walsh, Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1987), 616, 624; “Hall Makes Comeback,” [Munster] Times, May 6, 1987, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Associated Press, “Gary Workers Claim Pressure to Donate,” The Indianapolis Star, October 16, 2001, accessed Newspapers.com; “City Workers Asked about Contributions,” The Star Press, February 22, 2002, accessed Newspapers.com; “Grand Jury Examines Payroll Records of Gary City Clerk,” The Call-Leader, February 27, 2002, accessed Newspapers.com; Bill Dolan, “Court Hears More Evidence of Pressure to Pay Up,” [Munster] Times, January 14, 2003, accessed Newspapers.com; “Revealing Tape Played in Katie Hall Trial,” [Munster] Times, January 17, 2003, accessed Newspapers.com; Bill Dolan, “Hall’s Trial Evokes Emotions,” [Munster] Times, January 21, 2003, accessed Newspapers.com; Bill Dolan, “Katie Hall Pleads Guilty, Resigns Post,” [Munster] Times, January 28, 2003, accessed Newspapers.com; Bill Dolan, “Hall May Start Jail Term on Oct. 14,” [Munster] Times, October 7, 2003, accessed Newspapers.com; Munster Times, May 23, 2004, accessed Newspapers.com; Bill Dolan, “Former Gary Clerk Loses Suit,” [Munster] Times, April 30, 2004, accessed Newspapers.com; Lu Ann Franklin, “Gary’s Katie Hall Honored: Ex-congresswoman Recalled for Dedication to Family, Working to Create King Holiday,” Indianapolis Star, February 26, 2012, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

Hall completed her B.S. in education at Mississippi Valley State University, and went on to receive her M.S. at Indiana University in 1969. Before running for public office, Hall taught social studies in Gary public schools. She returned to teaching after her term as U.S. Representative.

In 1974, Hall won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives as a Democrat. Two years later, she ran for the Indiana Senate and won; Hall and Julia Carson became the first African American women elected to the state senate. While in the Indiana General Assembly, Hall supported education measures, healthcare reform, protections for women, and labor interests. For example, in the Senate, Hall sponsored a measure to “fund emergency hospital treatment for rape victims,” including those who could not afford to pay.

In 1987, Hall was elected Gary city clerk. Her career became mired in scandal when in 2001 suspended city clerk employees alleged that Hall and her daughter and chief deputy, Junifer Hall, pressured them to donate to Katie’s political campaign or face termination. Dionna Drinkard and Charmaine Singleton said they were suspended after not selling tickets at a fundraiser for Hall’s reelection campaign. Although suspended, the Halls continued to list them as active employees, which meant Drinkard was unable to collect unemployment. The U.S. District Court charged the Halls with racketeering, perjury, and ghost employment, as well as more than a dozen other charges. At trial, a federal grand jury heard testimony from other employees who came forward with similar allegations. They stated that the Halls forced them to sell candy, purchase fundraising tickets and staff fundraisers to maintain employment. Former employee James W. Morris, Jr. alleged that the Halls added pressure by scheduling fundraisers just before pay day. A recording of a conversation, played in court, between Junifer and an employee confirmed the allegations.

Additionally, investigators discovered that employees listed on the office’s 2002 budget included a former intern who was killed in 1999, a student who worked for the clerk part time one summer two years previously, and Indiana’s Miss Perfect Teen, who was listed as a “maintenance man.” In 2003, the Halls plead guilty to a federal mail fraud charge that they extorted thousands of dollars from employees. By pleading guilty, their other charges were dropped. However, the Halls admitted to forcing their employees to raise money for The Friends of Katie Hall or face termination. They also admitted to providing Hall’s other daughter, Jacqueline, with an income and benefits, despite the fact that she did not actually work for the city clerk. The Halls immediately resigned from office. Junifer served a 16-month sentence at the Pekin Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois. Katie Hall was placed on probation for five years. According to the Munster Times, one observer at her trial noted “‘We are seeing the destruction of an icon.’” Thus ended Katie Hall’s illustrious political career, in which she broke racial barriers and honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Katie Hall died in Gary in 2012.

[3] Justin E. Walsh, Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis: The Select Committee on the Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1987), 577; David J. Remondini, “Hatcher’s Grip Slips in Lake County Stronghold,” Indianapolis Star, May 10, 1984, 32, accessed Newspapers.com; “Hall Makes Comeback,” [Munster] Times, May 6, 1987, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

Hall made history in November 1982, when she was elected to complete the term of recently deceased U.S. Representative Adam Benjamin, Jr. in addition to being elected to her own two-year term after serving out Benjamin’s. Hall thus became the first African American to represent Indiana in the U.S. Congress.

In 1984, Hall unsuccessfully ran to keep her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She lost the Democratic primary to Peter Visclosky of Merrillville. Hall attempted to regain the seat in 1986, but once again lost to Visclosky.

[4] U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. A Bill to Amend Title 5, United States Code, To Make the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Legal Public Holiday. 98th Cong., 1983. H. R. 3706. Congress.gov.

U.S. Representative Katie Hall introduced H.R. 3706 on July 29, 1983 during her first (and only) term in Congress. After the House passed the bill on August 2, Hall was quoted in the Indianapolis News with an insight into her motivation: “The time is before us to show what we believe— that justice and equality must continue to prevail, not only as individuals, but as the greatest nation in this world.”[4] For Hall, the King holiday bill was about affirming America’s commitment to King’s mission of civil rights. It would be another two and a half months of political debate before the Senate passed the bill. See footnotes five and six for more information about the movement to get the holiday bill passed.

[5] Ken Fireman, “Conyers’ King Bill Finally Wins After 15-Year Struggle,” Detroit Free Press, October 23, 1983, 3, accessed Newspapers.com; Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna, “Years of Persistence Led to Holiday,” Indianapolis Star, January 14, 2018, 3, accessed Newspapers.com

Following Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) introduced legislation in each congressional session with the hope of creating a holiday in King’s honor. However, each year the bill failed to get enough support to become law until 1983—fifteen years after Conyers’ initial attempt. Between when Conyers introduced the bill in January 1981 and when Hall introduced the bill in the summer of 1983, the bill text was changed to propose that the holiday be celebrated every third Monday in January, rather than on King’s birth date of January 15. This combatted the detractors’ claim that opening government offices twice in one week would be too costly by instead celebrating the holiday on the same Monday each year.

[6] Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna, “Years of Persistence Led to Holiday,” Indianapolis Star, January 14, 2018, 3, accessed Newspapers.com; Michael A. Fletcher, “One-Day Shopping Boycott Urged to Honor King’s Birthday,” [Baltimore] Evening Sun, January 11, 1983, 28, accessed Newspapers.com; [Untitled report by Neil MacNeil], Indiana Historical Society, Katie Hall Papers, M1321, Folder 3, Box 1, October 20, 1983; “250,000 Recall 1963 Protest in Washington,” Indianapolis Star, August 28, 1983, accessed Newspapers.com; “Making of the Holiday,” accessed The King Center; “Hall Leads Hearings on King Holiday,” Indianapolis Recorder, July 2, 1983, 14, accessed Newspapers.com; Lou Hiner, “Katie Hall Takes on a Tough Task,” Muncie Evening Press, August 23, 1983, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

There are many factors contributing to why the bill was successful in 1983 and not earlier. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” which he wrote in 1980, was wildly successful. The song was written in support of establishing a national holiday in honor of King, and it pulled a lot of weight to raise the public profile of the holiday demand. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, ran The King Center and was also heavily involved in pushing for the holiday, testifying multiple times before the Subcommittee on Census and Population. In 1982, Mrs. King and Wonder delivered a petition to the Speaker of the House bearing more than six million signatures in favor of the holiday. In August 1983, between 250,000 and 500,000 Americans rallied at the National Mall in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech; all speakers called on Reagan to sign the MLK Day bill. Amongst these other factors, Hall was busy building support among her colleagues for the holiday.

In the summer of 1983, Hall wrote letters and made calls to legislators to secure votes. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Census and Population, Hall led several hearings called to measure Americans’ support of a holiday in memory of King’s legacy. Many testified in support of the holiday during these hearings, including House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Rep. John Conyers, Senator Edward Kennedy, Stevie Wonder, and Coretta Scott King.  

Unpopular antics of those opposed to the holiday actually helped sway people towards supporting the bill. Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms was staunchest in opposition to a tenth federal holiday. In arguing against the bill, he cited financial concerns as well as allegations that King had associated with Communists. In late October 1983, he went on to dramatically filibuster the bill on the floor of the Senate. Helms prepared an inch-thick folder which included his denunciation of King and some of the 65,000 documents which the FBI had recently released on King. His impassioned indictment of King infuriated Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) because they relied on invoking the memory of Senator Kennedy’s deceased brothers—former President John Kennedy and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy—against King. Kennedy was “appalled at [Helms’] attempt to misappropriate the memory” of his brothers and “misuse it as part of this smear campaign.” Senator Bill Bradley (D- New Jersey) joined Kennedy’s rebuttal, contending that Helms and others who opposed the King holiday bill “are playing up to Old Jim Crow and all of us know it.” Helms’s filibuster of the holiday bill had the opposite effect from what he had intended. In fact, Southern senators together ended up voting for the bill in a higher percentage than the Senate overall.

Support for the holiday was gaining ground around the country; by 1983 eighteen states had enacted some form of holiday in honor of Dr. King. Politicians could see the tide of public support turning in favor of the holiday, and their positions on the holiday became something of a litmus test for a politician’s support of civil rights. Helms’ angry display in Congress did nothing to dispel the notion that opposition to the holiday was tied to racism. Some letters to the editor of newspapers from the time alleged that Reagan ultimately supported and signed the King holiday bill to secure the African American vote in his 1984 reelection campaign.

[7] U.S. Public Law 98-114, An Act To Amend Title 5, United States Code, To Make the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Legal Public Holiday, November 2, 1983; Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday,” The American Presidency Project, November 2, 1983; “Reagan Ready to Sign Bill but Filibuster Delays King Holiday,” [Columbus, Indiana] Republic, October 4, 1983, 22, accessed Newspapers.com; “Reagan Applauds King Example,” [Lafayette] Journal and Courier, January 16, 1983, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; Ronald Reagan, "The President's News Conference," The American Presidency Project, October 19, 1983; “King Tapes Ordered Sealed,” Greenville [South Carolina] News, February 1, 1977, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; “King Holiday OK’d by House in Major Win for Hall,” Indianapolis Recorder, August 6, 1983, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Senate Votes,” Farmington [New Mexico] Daily Times, October 26, 1983, 9, accessed NewpaperArchive.com;

On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law establishing the third Monday in January as a federal holiday honoring the life and civil rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Reagan supported the bill despite initial misgivings about the cost to the federal government, his belief that holidays in honor of an individual ought to be reserved for “the Washingtons and Lincolns,” and concerns about King’s alleged Communist associations. When asked during an October 19, 1983 press conference if he agreed with Senator Jesse Helms’ (R-North Carolina) accusations that Dr. King was a Communist sympathizer, Reagan responded, “We’ll know in about 35 years, won’t we?” This statement alluded to the fact that King’s wiretap records were sealed by court order for 50 years, which would actually have been in 2027 as opposed to 2018 as Reagan claimed.

The bill—H.R. 3706—established Dr. King’s birthday as a paid day off for federal employees, and did not affect workers at the state level. The Indiana General Assembly passed a state law in 1989 establishing the Dr. King holiday for state workers, but it was not until 2000 that all fifty states instituted a holiday in memory of Dr. King for state employees.

[8] Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna, “Years of Persistence Led to Holiday,” Indianapolis Star, January 14, 2018, 3, accessed Newspapers.com; U.S. Congress. House. Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday Commission, 98th Cong., 1984, H. Rept. 893, accessed Indiana State Library; “Nation Honors King and His Dream,” Rapid City [North Dakota] Journal, January 20, 1986, 1-2, accessed Newspapers.com; “Observance Planned,” [Munster] Times, January 6, 1986, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.

The law creating the new holiday stated that celebration was to begin in January 1986. This two year period between creating the holiday and commencing celebrations was intended to provide time for appropriate observance to be planned. During this two year window, in 1984, Hall wrote a bill establishing a federal holiday commission with the mission to raise funds and establish activities for the first observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1986. The bill passed.

In Hall’s district, Gary held a celebration called “The Dream that Lives” at the Genesis Convention Center. Some state capitals, including Indianapolis, held commemorative marches and rallies. Birmingham, Alabama unveiled a new statue of Dr. King. In Washington, D.C., Stevie Wonder led a reception at the Kennedy Center with other musicians. Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke to congregants in Atlanta where Dr. King was minister, and then led a vigil at Dr. King’s grave. Coretta Scott King led a reception at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center, also located in Atlanta.