Jan 15, 2017

James Sensenbrenner Remains One of Six in Congress Who Opposed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Wisconsin U.S. House roll call vote in 1983 on establishment
of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a legal public holiday, (GovTrack)
Updated - The birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated as a national holiday on the third Monday of January every year.

President Reagan signed the Rev. King Holiday bill (H.R. 3706 (1983)), into law on November 2, 1983. Only three people have a national holiday observed in their honor (Congress.Gov), (White House).

[Note: No links are made here to the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change website, (funded by by J.P. Morgan Chase Co.), or The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. because these groups see fit to copyright and privatize speeches, images and photos of King, profiting from a leader of the American civil rights movement.]

Getting Martin Luther King's birthday through congress as a legal national holiday was a difficult legislative process.

Wisconsin Republicans' Shameful Performance

If you are from Wisconsin, the Congressional record reveals familiar Republican names who were loyal members of the opposition to King: Reps Tom Petri, (R-Fond du Lac), Toby Roth, (R-Green Bay), and James Sensenbrenner (R-Whitefish Bay) (Gov Track).

These three Wisconsin congressmen represented overwhelming white districts in east-central and northeastern Wisconsin, and suburban Milwaukee. Petri, Roth and Sensenbrenner were among 90 House members who joined segregationists and white supremacists in opposing the King holiday in an August 2, 1983 vote that sent H.R. 3706 (1983) to the United States Senate (Gov Track) (Congress.Gov), (New York Times).

The years-long battle featured a fierce debate in 1979 in which the "strongest opposition came from lawmakers in the Deep South, such as Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, who ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist platform," (Stack, New York Times). Still the deep south had nothing on the rural north with respect to racism. Reps. Petri, Roth and Sensenbrenner all played to their white rural and suburban constituencies.

Racism Lives

Six serving members of Congress— Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa); Richard Shelby (R-Alabama); John McCain (R-Arizona); Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); and United States Representatives Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)—remain what is left of the congressional opposition who worked against Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Mal Contends), (Washington Post). All six were reelected in 2016, and all six represent very white and very safe Republican jurisdictions today.

If you live in Arkansas, Alabama, or Mississippi today you can jointly observe Robert E. Lee Day, to give some balance to this most-uppity of black men (Little, National Geographic).

Bill introduced by Rep. Katie Hall [D-IN1, 1981-1984] on July 29, 1983, H.R. 3706 (98th):
A bill to amend title 5, United States Code, to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
a legal public holiday. 98th Congress, Aug 2, 1983, (Congress.Gov)

It is more important than ever to observe Martin Luther King's birthday as a moment to celebrate the abolitionist and civil-rights movements that remain today a promise still unfulfilled.

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