as i sat on my semi-empty train to work this morning, i realized that i have never had martin luther king day off (at least i've never had a day off because it was martin luther king day). MLK day became a federal holiday through an act of congress that was signed by the president in 1983 but didn't go into effect until january 1986. in january 1983, i was in 7th grade. even though the law hadn't gone into effect yet, my school, a quaker private school, celebrated martin luther king day by having a day dedicated to education about king's life and legacy. the school continued with that practice for each year after that, and i continued to go to that same school until i graduated high school in 1988. but that meant that even after the federal holiday went into effect and my friends at public school got the day off, i still had a school day.
then i went to a college that had an obscenely long winter break. so i never was in classes on MLK day, but i wouldn't have been even if the holiday did not exist. for me, mid-january was still christmas break.
then i went to law school, and we did have classed on MLK day. it was a big controversy too, with students demanding the school recognize the holiday. the law school administration reacted in the way it did to every student demand for change: by blaming the american bar association. the ABA certifies law school. most states (the one exception i know of is california) require a degree from an ABA certified law school to get a license to practice law in that state.so to maintain our ABA certification, the law school claimed, we needed to have a certain number of credit-hours per semester. if they cut out just one day by adding the MLK holiday, the school would lose its certification, our law degrees would become worthless, none of us would ever find a job, and we would all starve to death in a gutter (except in CA! but who wants to move there?). or at least that was the administration's argument.
then i graduated and entered the legal profession to find that private law firms almost never give MLK day off. the holiday is viewed more as a columbus day/veterans day level holiday (the federal holidays days that aren't important enough to take off) rather than as a memorial day/labor day level holiday that merits closing the office. even true at my union-side law firm, a holiday celebrating one of the heroes of the labor movement is still a work day for me.