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History of AFL-CIO's Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday

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For more than 25 years, the AFL-CIO’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observance has brought together more than 500 trade unionists annually to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, perform community service, and examine current civil and human rights issues. 


This event reinforces the historic bond between the labor and civil rights movements, honors Dr. King’s vision on the importance of collective action—whether at the voting booth or at the workplace—and mobilizes participants to continue their work to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.



After Congress passed legislation creating a federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an effort in which the AFL-CIO played a key role, the AFL-CIO formed a labor committee to find a way to honor the holiday and birthday of Dr. King. At the outset, the AFL-CIO worked in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta to organize an annual observance in the city. Starting in 1998, the annual observance has been held in different cities each year.




The theme of the January 2023 conference was “Claiming our Power, Protecting Our Democracy.”

Our labor community was engaged, we served others through service projects, and we came together in taking another step toward strengthening the bond between the civil rights and labor movements.


Previous Conferences

Below is the list of cities that have hosted the Dr. King holiday observance since 1998:

1998 Memphis, Tenn.1999 Birmingham, Ala.2000 Atlanta
2001 Greensboro, N.C.2002 Miami2003 Jackson, Miss.
2004 Orlando, Fla.2005 Los Angeles2006 Baton Rouge, La.
2007 Houston2008 Memphis, Tenn.2009 New Orleans
2010 Greensboro, N.C.2011 Cincinnati2012 Detroit
2013 Philadelphia2014 San Antonio2015 Atlanta
2016 Washington, D.C.2017 Washington, D.C.2018 Houston
2019 Washington, D.C.2020 Washington, D.C.2021 Virtual
2022 Virtual2023 Washington, D.C.