Each year, for 36 years, the third Monday of January honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in observance of his birthday and for his nonviolent activism for civil rights. It became a federal holiday in 1986 but only until the year 2000 did all 50 states officially recognize the holiday. The Town of Chapel Hill voted to observe the holiday on January 16, 1984, two years before it was officially observed. And, on May 8, 2005 Chapel Hill Town Council dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which had been renamed from Airport Road.

The Town of Chapel Hill has a deep connection with Dr. King stemming from a visit in 1960 which included stops at the African American community center (now known as Hargraves Community Center) the University Baptist Church, at a UNC-Chapel Hill classroom and his main speech in Hill Hall on campus.

On May 8, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in the Community Room at the University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. The speech was titled “The Church’s Mission on the Frontier of Racial Tension”. Dr. King was originally invited to speak in the church’s sanctuary but that was met with controversial opposition from certain church members.

In 2014, local leaders dedicated the Community Room to Dr. King and it is thought that the University Baptist Church was the only church in the area where Dr. King spoke at the time.

More currently, local author and UNC Alum, Mike Ogle, took a deep dive into the history of that May 1960 visit, writing a story on his findings which ran on the front pages of the News & Observer and Herald-Sun on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.   

Local Events

Celebrate and Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Town of Carrboro will present a program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Century Hall of the Carrboro Century Center, 100 N. Greensboro St. The event is planned by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council, Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board, and the Carrboro Youth Council.


MLK Jr. Week of Celebration: Finding Our Way Forward

UNC’s MLK Jr. Celebration is part of a campus-wide initiative to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his legacy, and his ideals. January 15th – January 18th. Carolina began its celebrations of Dr. King’s life and legacy long before there was a federal holiday. UNC is the only university ever awarded the “Making of the King Holiday Award” by the former MLK Federal Holiday Commission. UNC-CH engages in honoring King’s legacy through several efforts: MLK Celebration and Committee, MLK University and Community Corporation, and the Day of Service.


Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

Held at the First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill. “New Voices for a New Day” featuring Greear Webb. January 16th at 11 am. Hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP. Note: masks are required.


Celebrate and support diversity! Find stories, businesses, news and more here: https://chapelhilldiversity.com/


Photo credit: Top image MLK at Hargraves Southern Historical Collection Digital Files > John Kenyon Chapman (05441) > Civil Rights and Journey of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, undated.