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Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday that honors a private American citizen, and, with the celebration of George Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day, one of just three holidays honoring a specific person. Calls for a holiday to honor King began immediately following his death. A 15-year effort on the part of lawmakers and civil rights leaders, buoyed by popular support, culminated in 1983 when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that officially designated the third Monday in January as a federal holiday.