National Martin Luther King Day holiday traces roots to Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In the early 1980s, there was a big push to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a holiday. Chicago pastor Rich Redmond had been working on a state celebration with Harold Washington, so he reached out to the King Foundation.

"To my surprise, Hosea, I get the call back from Mrs. Coretta Scott King and I was floored!" Pastor Redmond said.

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Mrs. King was coming to the city for a fundraising concert at the Chicago Theatre featuring Tony Bennett. It was one of her only times to talk, so she invited Redmond.

"She was so down-to-earth, so I thoroughly enjoyed our time together," he recalled "Invited to a concert to sit in her private booth, just me and her. She just met me. What trust; you know, she had her security with her."

Redmond went on to write a draft for the holiday proposal. Mrs. King had been leery of commercializing Dr. King's legacy, and wanted the day to focus not just on commemoration but also education and service.

"Love one another, share with one another and create a day of service. Those were her words," Redmond said.

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Redmond also wrote the proposal creating the Chicago mayor's MLK Interfaith Breakfast, now in its 35th year. Mayor Harold Washington wanted to promote unity in the city.

"He was very dedicated to this. He gave me everything I needed to make it happen. I'm just thankful that Illinois was a part of it and she was elated that Illinois was the first state to have a King holiday," said Redmond.

Redmond said Mrs. King and Harold Washington would both be proud of what MLK Day has become.
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