KING HOLIDAY

UPI’s Steve Sailer has an interesting proposal to solve a problem I was unaware existed:

It’s been 18 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday became a federal holiday, and five years since New Hampshire became the 50th state to make it a holiday for state workers. Yet, in 2004, 29 percent of employers give their staffs the day off with pay, according to a survey of 339 Human Resources executives by publisher BNA Inc.

It’s been 18 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday became a federal holiday, and five years since New Hampshire became the 50th state to make it a holiday for state workers. Yet, in 2004, 29 percent of employers give their staffs the day off with pay, according to a survey of 339 Human Resources executives by publisher BNA Inc.

Surprisingly, few non-black workers seem to mind. Not surprisingly, some blacks feel that this apathy toward King’s birthday is a sign of disrespect. Black comedian Chris Rock said, “You gotta be pretty racist to not want a day off from work.”

Fortunately, one simple change in the holiday could end this racial divisiveness and unite workers of all colors in demanding a paid holiday honoring King.

The federal holiday currently falls on the third Monday in January. In 2004, that’s Jan. 19. It’s a great time for a holiday — if you live in Honolulu or Key West. In many parts of the country, however, mid-January is the worst point of the winter. In Chicago, for instance, the coldest day of the year on average is Jan. 18. North of, say, Florida, the weather makes planning parades, outdoor speeches or picnics quite dicey.

The popularity of the holiday differs by latitude. BNA found that “By region, organizations located in the Southern United States are most likely to designate Jan. 19 as a paid holiday (44 percent), whereas employers in the North Central region are least likely to do so (15 percent).”

Besides, by the middle of January, most employees have had at least four official days off in the preceding seven weeks (New Year’s, Christmas and two for Thanksgiving).

Many get Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as paid holidays, too. Plus, quite a few took some vacation time in November or December. In contrast, mid-January is one of the most intense times of the year for doing business.

Finally, Presidents’ Day (another not terribly popular winter holiday) is coming in the middle of February.

***

Numerous blacks in the private sector, though, wish to honor King. Many do so by using up a vacation day or one of their limited “floating holidays,” or by just calling in sick.

That the day is turning into an unofficial holiday for black workers but few others poses difficult dilemmas for many managers. Should you risk delays by postponing important meetings that would otherwise be scheduled for the third Monday in January? Or should you go ahead and make crucial decisions with few of your black employees in the room?

The solution to this kind of unintended racial divisiveness is to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday more attractive to everybody. Liberate it from its unimaginative dependence on his birthday. There’s plenty of precedent for that. The only other man to have a holiday celebrating his birthday is Jesus Christ.

Even George Washington and Abe Lincoln had their birthdays collapsed together into the generic Presidents’ Day.

Instead of commemorating the day when King was born, follow the precedent set by Columbus Day. We don’t celebrate Columbus on the day of his birth, but on the anniversary of his greatest feat, reaching the New World on Oct. 12, 1492.

Similarly, we could commemorate what might be King’s most memorable achievement: his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

If we moved the King holiday to the Monday a week before Labor Day, it would suddenly become hugely popular. Everybody would want to take the last Monday in August off.

This would also rebalance our holiday calendar. It’s dysfunctional that we currently have three holidays in the months of January and February, but none in the two months between the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

My company doesn’t take the day off. Indeed, we don’t take Presidents Day, Columbus Day, or most of the other federal holidays off, either.

Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day are really the only holidays that most people celebrate in the sense of doing anything unusual to commemorate them. Most people treat all the other ones simply as days off–like an extra Saturday. Personally, I’d prefer to have an extra four or five vacation days to use as I please rather than taking arbitrary days off for things like Presidents Day or Labor Day.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.