Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reagan signed the bill: Jan. 20 1986--MLK federal holiday celebrated for first time

MLK plaque, Winnetka, IL
On this day in 1986, Martin Luther King's birthday was first celebrated as a federal holiday. Ronald Reagan, who for his entire political career was falsely called a racist, signed the MLK holiday bill in 1983.

Two years ago the Gipper's son, Michael, asked if it was his father who was the first black president, as opposed to Toni Morrison's choice, Bill Clinton.

More from Michael:
During the Great Depression, Dad played football for Coach Mac McKinzie at Eureka College in Illinois. During a game trip to a nearby Illinois college, the team was scheduled to stay in a hotel--but the hotel manager refused to give a room to Dad's two black teammates, William Franklin "Burgie" Burghardt and Jim Rattan.

Coach McKinzie angrily replied that the entire team would sleep on the bus that night. Dad spoke up and offered an alternative: Why not send Burgie and Jim to the Reagan home in Dixon, just 15 miles away? Dad's parents, Jack and Nelle Reagan, would welcome his teammates -- and the whole team would get a good night's rest.

McKinzie Field, Eureka College
In his autobiography, "An American Life," Dad recalled, "We went to my house and I rang the bell and Nelle came to the door. . . 'Well, come on in,' she said. . . . She was absolutely color-blind when it came to racial matters; these fellows were just two of my friends. That was the way she and Jack had always raised my brother and me."

Burgie was Dad's best friend on the team -- he played center and Dad played guard -- and he recalled the incident as well. Shortly after Dad's inauguration in 1981, liberal columnist Mark Shields interviewed Burgie, who was then a retired college professor. Burgie recounted the story exactly as Dad would later tell it in his book including the warm welcome from Jack and Nelle Reagan.
Eureka posts:
Chicago Reagan apt.
Chicago Reagan apartment posts:
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