Musician Biographies » Stevie Wonder » The 1980s - American Musical Tastes, Motown Reunion And Saturday Night Live, Jesse Jackson And The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

The 1980s - Jesse Jackson And The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

stevie african national day

Stevie's activism took the national stage during the 1983-1984 presidential election. Stevie supported Jesse Jackson's bid for the presidency. This put African American politics on a national scale for the first time since the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Stevie was, and still is, a hard-working supporter of national African American politics. He understands that many of America's big city populations have an African American majority. Along with Jesse Jackson, Stevie called for political activism in African American communities. By organizing, Stevie argued, African Americans could better their lives. And that would better the lives of all Americans.

Stevie took the national political stage for another reason. He had been working to get Martin Luther King Jr. recognized for his work. Stevie and other activists wanted a national holiday named for King. They were asking for King's birthday, January 20, to be named as the holiday date. A United States Senate vote was held the day after Stevie began a concert series at New York City's Radio City Music Hall. The vote was cast and King would be honored. Today, America celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. day on the third Monday of January each year.

Banned in South Africa

When Stevie accepted the best song Oscar for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” in March 1985, (from the movie The Woman in Red) he dedicated his award to the South African activist and antiapartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Mandela was still in prison at this time, and Stevie angered South African radio stations. They stopped playing all of Stevie's music.

Stevie spoke at a press conference the day after the victorious vote: “Somewhere Dr. King is smiling, not because his birthday is a holiday; but because he, too, is convinced that we are moving in the right direction. I know that Dr. King appreciates that this day is a day for all Americans to celebrate love, peace and unity. It is not a cure-all, but it is a healing aid.”

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