Martin Luther King Jr. Day
and Black History Month

The origins of the day that salutes the life of MLK and the month that celebrates black history

By Byron Toben

February 1, 2024

On January 15, 2024, which celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded of his speech one day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, wherein he quoted the Bible about entering the promised land, saying, “I may not be able to enter with you, but you will enter (someday).”

That someday has come, even with some present setbacks.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his speech “I have a dream” – Image: Rowland Scherman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


MLK Day is a federal holiday in all 50 U.S. states although two states – Alabama and Louisiana – do not observe it. It is held on the third Monday of each year. Internationally, it is partially recognized in Canada (Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver), Japan (Hiroshima), the Netherlands (Wassenaar) and Israel. He spoke or wrote several times that anti-Semites often used anti-Zionism as a cover for their true beliefs.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39.

Black History Month

February as Black History Month had its origins in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) declared a “Negro History Week” in the second week of February, the week in which both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglas (February 14) were born.

“Frederick Douglass appealing to President Lincoln and his cabinet to enlist Negroes,” by William Edouard Scott – Image: Library of Congress

Educational institutions gradually observed the week and in 1970, Kent State University (Ohio) adopted the full month of February. In 1976, the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution, President Gerald Ford officially designated Black History Month.

In 1995, the Canadian House of Commons followed suit, as did the Canadian Senate in 2008, both unanimously.


Each year, the month has a different theme. For 2024, the theme is African Americans and the Arts.


Black History Month has been observed in The United Kingdom since 1979 (albeit in October) and in cities in other countries: Germany 1990 (Berlin), Ireland 2010 (Cork), France 2018 (Bordeaux and Paris), as well as seven countries in Africa since 2020.

In France in 2022, the month was dedicated to dual U.S. citizen Josephine Baker.

Feature image: Martin Luther King memorial,

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Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated websites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner, and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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