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What's the difference between MLK Day and MLK Memorial Day?

With MLK Memorial Day on Tuesday, April 4, some folks are asking: "Wasn't MLK day in January?"

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The City of Memphis administrative offices and MLGW are closed Tuesday, April 4 for Martin Luther King Memorial Day, which is confusing for people not from Memphis who celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year on Monday, January 16. So what is the difference between these two holidays and why does Memphis observe both? 

MLK Day is the nationally recognized holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, often shortened to just "MLK Day" is a federal holiday that always takes place on the third Monday in January. It celebrates the birth of MLK.  His actual birthday is January 15, but the holiday is observed on a Monday to increase the number of 3-day weekends for federal employees, just like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and others. 

The campaign to make MLK Day a federal holiday began soon after his death in 1968. St. Louis, MO was one of the first cities to officially recognize the day as a holiday. US Representative John Conyers introduced legislation every year between 1968 and 1983 until it was signed into law in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan. 

Even so, it wasn't officially observed in all 50 states until 2000. New Hampshire was the last state to officially observe MLK Day. 

OK, so what is MLK Memorial Day?

MLK Memorial Day is a solemn remembrance of Martin Luther King's death that is observed in Memphis. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at 6:01pm. Tuesday, April 4, 2023 will mark 55 years since he was shot and killed on the second-floor balcony outside of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. 

It's not an official holiday recognized by the federal government, but it is recognized in the City of Memphis. City offices are closed on April 4 every year. Most importantly, there is no trash pickup in Memphis on the observance day in honor of the reason Martin Luther King was in Memphis on the day he was killed: the Memphis sanitation workers' strike.

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis holds an annual event on April 4 to commemorate MLK's death called "Remembering MLK: The Man. The Movement. The Moment", which includes speakers and performances.

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