DENVER — Every January, the Mile High City honors civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy with one of the largest celebrations in the country.
Almost 40 years ago, Gov. Richard Lamm signed a bill into law that would honor Dr. King with an official holiday in Colorado.
Before 1984, similar proposed bills to honor King failed in the state legislature. The first state lawmaker to introduce one of them was then state representative Wellington Webb. After his time in the statehouse, he was elected as Denver's mayor in 1991.
As mayor, Webb introduced three bills in the Colorado House of Representatives in the 1970s. Each of them failed.
"We fight for what we believe in and, two, we fight for what we believe is right and, three, we are very resilient people," Webb said over the phone on Monday.
In 1979, then Colorado State Rep. King Trimble also introduced a bill to adopt a holiday. It was postponed indefinitely.
In the 1980s, Mayor Webb's wife, Wilma Webb, continued his fight.
As a state representative, Wilma Webb introduced three bills between 1981 and 1983. All of them failed to pass.
In 1984, she successfully introduced and carried HB-1201, which was adopted by the Colorado General Assembly.
"This has been a 10-year fight," Wellington Webb said. "It didn't happen overnight, which is what we continue to tell young people."
Mayor Webb said First Lady Wilma Webb is considered the mother of the Colorado MLK Day holiday. He said some who pushed back against the idea of a holiday said there were too many in the state.
"Wilma said, 'Well, we can fix that. We can do what the federal government has done,'" he said. "We will merge two birthdays together. We will merge President Lincoln and President Washington together to have one holiday."
Lamm signed the bill into law on April 4, 1984, which was exactly 16 years after the assassination of Dr. King. The following year, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. King, came to Denver. She asked Lamm to create the Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission. Rep. Wilma Webb became the commission's chairperson.
She worked with Mrs. King in planning the inaugural holiday, which took place in January 1986.
On Monday, Jan. 20, 1986, an estimated 15,000 people gathered in Denver's City Park for the Martin Marade.
The term "marade" was coined by Wilma Webb.
Wilma Webb and Wellington Webb have honored the civil rights icon every year since 1986. Wellington Webb said this day is not just to celebrate Dr. King's birthday, but it is also to say how we can make the country better.
"This is not a Black holiday," he said. "This is an American holiday for an American who happened to be Black."
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