Special Observations

Days and months declared by Presidential Proclamation or Congressional decree to hold special significance in U.S. American culture.

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Third Monday in January

Authority: Public Law 98-144; Public Law 98-399

First observed on January 20, 1986, the Federal legal holiday honoring the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. serves as a time to reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Rev. Dr. King. 

On August 23, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed federal legitimation into law, challenging Americans to use this holiday as a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of King. Today, many celebrate Martin Luther King Day of Service by volunteering in their local community. 

It is appropriate for the Federal Government to coordinate observation efforts with Americans of diverse backgrounds and with private organizations.


National Women’s History Month

March

Authority: Public Law 103-22, 107 Stat. 58 and Executive Order 11375

Established to draw attention to and improve the focus on women in historical studies, National Women’s History Month began in New York City on March 8, 1857 when female textile workers marched to protest unfair working conditions and unequal rights for women. One of the first organized strikes by working women, the women called for a shorter work day and decent wages. 

Also on March 8, in 1908, women workers in the needle trades marched through New York City’s Lower East Side to protest child labor, sweatshop working conditions, and demand women’s suffrage. 

Beginning in 1910, March 8 became annually observed as International Women’s Day. Women’s History Work was instituted in 1978 as part of an effort to add women’s history to education curricula. 

In 1987, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) successfully petitioned Congress to include all of March as a celebration of the economic, political, social, scientific, and technological contributions of women. NWHP decides the theme for the month each year. 


Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May

Authority: Executive Order 13339

The roots of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month can be traced back to 1976, when Jeanie Jew, President of the Organization of Chinese American Women, contacted government officials in response to the lack of Asian Pacific representation in the U.S. bicentennial celebrations that year. Asian Heritage Week began in 1979, established by congressional proclamation. 

President George H.W. Bush signed a proclamation in May 1990 to expand the week to a month for that year. President Bush signed legislation on October 23, 1992 to designate each May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. May was chosen to commemorate two significant historic events: the first Japanese immigrants arrived to the U.S. on May 7, 1843 and the transcontinental railroad completion on May 10, 1869 (Golden Spike Day). The majority of the workers who laid the track were Chinese immigrants. 

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrates the many different Asian, Pacific, and Hawaiian cultures found in the U.S. and honors the economic, political, social, scientific, and technological contributions of Asian Pacific Americans. The Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) establishes the theme for the month each year.


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month

June

Authority: Proclamation 8387

On June 26, 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution to which LGBT Americans were commonly subjected. The Stonewall Inn was a welcoming and safe space for LGBT individuals, particularly transgender people, who were not welcomed in many other places in the city and so it had long been a target of regular police invasions. The uprising marks the beginning of the movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT Americans. 

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month commemorates the events of June 1969 and seeks to raise awareness of the ongoing persecution of LGBT Americans, call Americans to action to achieve equal justice and opportunity for LGBT Americans, and to celebrate the economic, political, social, scientific, and technological contributions of LGBT Americans. 

President Clinton issued Executive Order 13087 in 1998, expanding equal employment opportunity protections in the federal government to include sexual orientation. On June 2, 2000, President Clinton issued Proclamation No. 7316 for Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. 

On June 1, 2009, President Obama issued Proclamation No. 8387 for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. In this proclamation the President pointed to the contributions made by LGBT Americans both in promoting equal rights for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and in broader initiatives such as the response to the global HIV pandemic. President Obama ended the proclamation by calling upon the people of the United States to “turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.” 


Women’s Equality Day

August 26

Congress declared August 26 “Women’s Equality Day” in 1973, when legislation introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) in 1971 was passed. On this day in 1920 the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was certified, after more than 72 years of suffragist movement that formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention, the world’s first women’s rights convention. The day also calls attention to women’s continuing struggle toward full equality. (Source)


Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 – October 15

Authority: Executive Order 13230

Congress established Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 for the week including September 15 and 16 to celebrate the economic, political, social, scientific, and technological contributions of Hispanic Americans and to honor the diverse cultures within the Hispanic community. 

The dates were chosen to commemorate two key historic events: Independence Day, honoring the formal signing of the Act of Independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua from Spain (September 15, 1821) and Mexico’s Independence Day, which denotes the beginning of the struggle against Spanish control (September 16, 1810). 

In 1988, the week was expanded to a month-long period that includes Día de la Raza (People’s Day), October 12, celebrating the influences of the people who came after Christopher Columbus and the multicultural, multiethnic society that evolved as a result; Chile’s Independence Day on September 18 (El Dieciocho); and Belize’s Independence Day on September 21. Each year’s theme is chosen by the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers.


American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month

November

Authority: Presidential Proclamation and Executive Order 13270

In 1976, Congress designated a week in October to celebrate Native American Awareness Week, which served as recognition for the great influence American Indians have had upon the U.S. Until August 1990, annual legislation continued the tradition, when President George H.W. Bush approved the designation of November as National American Indian Heritage Month. 

President Clinton noted in the 1996 proclamation, “Throughout our history, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have been an integral part of the American character. Against all odds, America’s first peoples have endured, and they remain a vital cultural, political, social, and moral presence.” 

Because many American Indian communities hold fall harvest and world-renewal ceremonies, powwows, dances, and various feasts in November, it is an appropriate month for the celebration of American Indian and Alaska Native heritage. The month honors hundreds of different tribes and approximately 250 languages, and celebrates the history, traditions, and values of American Indians and Alaska Natives. It serves as a reminder of the positive effect native peoples have had on the cultural development and growth of the U.S., as well as the struggles and challenges they have faced.


Veterans Day

November 11

Authority: P.L. 83-380; P.L. 90-363

One year after the hostilities of the First World War ceased on November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first commemoration of “Armistice Day.” A concurrent resolution by Congress in 1938 officially designated the day a legal U.S. holiday. 

For nearly forty years, Americans celebrated Armistice Day as a day of recognition and gratitude for the nation’s World War I veterans. By the mid-1950’s, the United States had sent American forces to fight aggression in Korea, as well as mobilized a record number of service members for World War II. 

In light of these massive additions to the veteran community in the United States, the 83rd Congress amended the original Armistice Day statute. Public Law 380 renamed November 11 “Veterans Day,” a national holiday that would honor the patriotism and service of American veterans from all times of war. 

Since President Eisenhower signed this act into law in June of 1954, Veterans Day has been observed annually by the American people, veteran service organizations, and the federal government.