Q&A: The MLK story and how it occurred

Here is background on the city’s actions that caused widespread criticism concerning the holiday Monday.


What happened?

The city Public Affairs office, using its various means of communication, typically notifies the public when non-emergency municipal offices will be closed for a holiday. On Friday afternoon, ironically about the same time the city was publishing a story about its Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances, the Public Affairs office published a one-sentence post on its Facebook and Twitter platforms: “Non-emergency municipal offices in Biloxi will be closed Monday for Great Americans Day.”


Why call it “Great Americans Day”?

The posts referred to a 30-year-old city ordinance officially naming the holiday.

The city’s MLK references were addressed three times 30 years ago.

National background: It was on Nov. 3, 1983 that President Reagan signed a bill establishing the third Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, beginning in 1986.

On Jan. 3, 1984, the Biloxi City Council, recognizing that a national holiday would take effect in 1986, actually declared an entire week, Jan. 8-15, 1984, as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Week.” See the Jan. 3, 1984 MLK Week designation

Nearly two years later, on Dec. 31, 1985, weeks before the country officially began celebrating MLK Day, the Biloxi City Council, recognizing that state law and city ordinance already had in place a holiday honoring Robert E. Lee, referred to the original 1984 measure declaring the MLK Week, and stated the city “would like to continue 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 …” This change, led by an African-American member of the City Council,  was intended to comply with conflicting state and federal laws that gave different names to the holiday, while emphasizing that Biloxi would celebrate the day as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which it has done ever since. See  the Dec. 31, 1985 “Great Americans Day” ordinance

Also, of note, on Jan. 7, 1986, an executive order was issued by Mayor Gerald Blessey declaring Jan. 20, 1986 as “Martin Luther King Day” in the city of Biloxi and is a city holiday. See the Jan. 7, 1986 minutes, which contain the executive order.


But isn’t Biloxi a sponsor of MLK Day?

Yes, Biloxi has been a huge sponsor of MLK Day over the years. In fact, the city’s financial funding and support before Hurricane Katrina helped sponsor a Battle of the Bands, featuring marching bands from Mississippi’s predominantly African-American colleges and universities, attracting as many as 5,000 to 7,000 people to the city’s Yankie Stadium. Additionally, as a permanent memorial, the city’s office building for planning and community development is named the “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Municipal Building,” which is located, incidentally, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.


What action is the city going to take now?

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich and members of the Biloxi City Council were actually unaware of the 30-year-old name of the holiday in the city code. In fact, Gilich said Friday, he had always looked on the day as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” and thought the city, through its support of the annual parades and celebrations, had always  made clear its recognition of the holiday as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

However, now aware of the decades-old ordinance, Mayor Gilich is calling for a special meeting of the City Council to change the name to align with the official federal holiday designation. That meeting will be Monday at 10 a.m., at Biloxi City Hall, an hour before the city’s downtown MLK Parade.a

Update: The Biloxi City Council at a special meeting on Jan. 16, 2017, unanimously voted to rename the holiday reference in the decades-old city code of ordinances to “Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” or, as it has commonly been referred to among Biloxians for years, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day” or “MLK Day.” To see the story, the actual resolution, and photos from the weekend’s MLK events, click here.