CHICAGO (CBS) — Monday marks the 36th annual national celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many may not know there are Chicagoans who helped make the holiday happen.
CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot spoke Monday to a local pastor who was part of the effort. Chicago Pastor Richard Redmond was a co-strategist for the committee to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.
Le Mignot asked Redmond what he thought Dr. King would say about he effort if he were alive today.
“I think he would say, ‘Thank you for believing,’” Redmond said.
Pastor Redmond created the Mayor’s Office Dr. King Interfaith Breakfast in Chicago. He worked closely with then U.S. Rep. and then-future Chicago Mayor Harold Washington to make the dream of a national holiday to honor Dr. King and his legacy, a reality.
“In recognizing Dr. King, this country would do itself honor – both here at home and abroad,” Washington said in a 1982 speech.
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In 1973 when he was an Illinois state representative, Washington introduced a bill to make King’s birthday a state holiday – and it was signed into law. Illinois was the very first state to recognize Dr. King’s birthday as a holiday, but Redmond knew more needed to be done on a national level – and asked Washington for help.
“He gave me some pointers on things to look at legislatively, and he shared, basically, the process he had to go through,” Redmond said.
It was not just politicians, but musicians who played a role. Stevie Wonder released the song “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to promote the holiday.
In 1981, Wonder performed the song at a march he organized in Washington, D.C.
“He traveled around the country to different radio stations, and it was Stevie who raised the consciousness of the American people that a holiday was necessary,” Redmond said.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday, but it would be 17 years before all 50 states would make the day a state holiday. New Hampshire was the last state to do so, officially celebrating the holiday at the state level in 2000.
Redmond also worked closely with Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who wanted to make sure the national holiday included three things – education, commemoration, and a day of service.
She told Redmond, as he quoted her, “I would like to see families, on that day, come together, watch a film, read a book, see a documentary about the Civil Rights movement.”
Redmond spoke to me inside Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale, a place where Dr. King spoke many times in the early 1960s. he podium where Dr. King spoke can still be seen there to this day.
A photo shows Pastor James Marcellus Stone standing to the left of Dr. King at the church. Stone was the grandfather of the current pastor of the church, Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick said Mayor Richard J. Daley didn’t want Dr. King speaking in Chicago, but King spoke anyway – preaching his message of non-violence and love to create change.