Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1957, he and other black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom -- 28 August 1963 -- saw more than 250,000 protesters; here King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. His last speech, given during a sanitation worker strike in Memphis, acknowledged turbulent times but was titled "I've Been To The Mountaintop." He was assassinated the following day, 4 April 1968, by James Earl Ray.
Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday in 1968. In 1973, Illinois became the first state to adopt MLK Day as a state holiday. It took 15 years for Congress to pass a bill marking the holiday. President Reagan signed it in 1983, and it became effective in 1986.