Biloxi Officials Adopt MLK Holiday After Criticism Over 'Great Americans Day'

The Biloxi city council voted unanimously to begin using the official name for the January federal holiday.

Published Jan 16, 2017

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The city council in Biloxi, Mississippi, voted unanimously on 16 January 2017 to honor the federal holiday known as "Martin Luther King Jr. Day" by its actual name instead of one local officials adopted in 1985.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the name change in a special meeting precipitated by criticism when the city's Twitter and Facebook accounts announced three days earlier that local non-emergency offices would be closed to observe a holiday referred to as "Great Americans Day":

Biloxi tweet

A city spokesperson, Vincent Creel, originally said that state (not local) officials came up with the "Great Americans Day" name. But the Misssippi Secretary of State web site indicates that in 1972 state legislators established a combined holiday to honor both King and Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee, not a generic "Great Americans Day."

Mayor Andrew Gilich expressed his opposition to the local holiday name in a statement posted on the city's web site, which also explained its actual origin:

“In my opinion,” Gilich said, “that is the appropriate step to take, for the holiday to have the same name as the federal holiday.”

Added the mayor: “This city’s longstanding support of our annual MLK celebrations speaks volumes about our support for this holiday. In fact, we’ve always celebrated this day as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

The issue arose when the city tweeted a one-line sentence that said non-emergency city offices would be closed “in observance of Great Americans Day.” The name has since been traced back to a City Council [effort] on Dec. 23, 1985 to proclaim the third Monday of every January “to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other great Americans who have made important contributions to the birth, growth and evolution of this country.”

The federal bill making the third Monday in January a federal holiday was signed into law in 1983 and took effect in 1986. Nueces County, in south Texas, calls the occasion a "County Civil Rights Holiday" with no mention of the famed civil rights leader whose birthday inspired the holiday.

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Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.