Martin Luther King and presidents' birthdays

Yesterday, of course, was the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday (except possibly in AZ). A close relative asked me why Dr. King was so honored but not President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jan. 30); she grew up during his term of office and still admires him for what he did during the Depression and World War II. (He was elected by landslides four times.) We do have holidays for the birthdays of George Washington (Feb. 22) and Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), though these have been modified by statute, but not for FDR, Teddy Roosevelt (Oct. 27) or JFK (May 29). I told her that FDR had many powerful enemies who could have forestalled any such honor after his death; she pointed out that Dr. King certainly had powerful enemies–no surpise to me. And recently I found that farm-labor leader Cesar Chavez’ birthday (Mar. 31) is now a state holidy in CA. What criteria do governments use?

But I’ve always been curious about the idea of “honoring” someone’s birthday (or whatever) by not working (or going to school as the case may be.

We used to celebrate the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln as separate holidays. Several issues, including the “Why not celebrate President XXXX’s birthday as well?” question, caused Congress to roll Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday in to one holiday to honor all of our former Presidents. We now celebrate President’s Day on the 3rd Monday on February. The date was chosen presumably because it falls between the original holiday dates and ensures a three day weekend.

As to criteria - State and Federal legislatures are pretty much free to set up any holidays they wish. Making a day an official holiday really only affects government offices. The private sector is free to observe any holiday schedule they wish.