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Biloxi's Fight to Celebrate Martin Luther King

Since the 1980s, the Mississippi city has officially celebrated “Great Americans Day,” not MLK Day. This year, that changes—and the backstory is more complex than it first appears.
relates to Biloxi's Fight to Celebrate Martin Luther King
Wilfredo Lee/AP Images

This year, for the first time, Biloxi, Mississippi, will officially celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For decades, the city has held concerts, parades, and parties for the civil rights leader; they’ve inscribed his name on streets and buildings, too. But for years, a little-known city ordinance deemed the third Monday in January not a holiday for King, but the vaguer “Great Americans Day”—a name that seems to scream the thing it doesn’t say.

Last year, the technicality came to light when a fastidious official posted a routine tweet about holiday hours: “Non-emergency municipal offices in Biloxi will be closed Monday for Great Americans Day.” It was a simple sentence, said Vincent Creel, the city’s public affairs manager, written using the language recorded in city literature. The unidentified official didn’t mean to offend, Creel said, and certainly did not expect national backlash. The tweet was promptly deleted.