President Reagan signs on August 27, 1984 legislation providing for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, to last for five years, with an option to renew for another five years. First meeting of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, November 1984. Mrs. King was unanimously elected chairperson and Former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean was named vice-chair. January 20, 1986, the first national King Holiday was observed. The King Holiday Commissioners were sworn in by federal district Judge Horace Ward.
The Commission was given two specific congressional mandates: first, to encourage appropriate ceremonies and activities throughout the U.S. relating to the observation of the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.; and second to provide advice and assistance to federal, state and local governments and to private organizations with respect to the observance of such a holiday. One such activity was a bell ringing ceremony requested by Mrs. King.
Mrs. King requested that a bell ringing ceremony be held in Philadelphia at Independence Hall to launch the celebration of the holiday. Ronald Reagan’s HUD Secretary, Samuel Pierce was the first bell ringer. For the first three years of celebrating the holiday the Commission served as sponsors of the bell ringing ceremony. Thereafter, the Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence became the sponsor of the ceremony, and has carried on the tradition ever since. The holiday is now observed by the ringing of the Liberty Bell as a Symbol of freedom and justice.
The Association currently assumes all organizing and financial responsibility for the bell ringing ceremony, but will seek and support legislative initiatives for federal funding of this national observance.
Mistress of Ceremony, Natasha Brown, CBS-3 News Anchor
Gregory E. Deavens, President and CEO, Independence
Honorary National Bell Ringer