Since November 2, 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated as a national holiday on the third Monday in January. On this day we as a nation recognize MLK’s accomplishments as an influential orator, minister and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.
The son of a Baptist minister, MLK was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 15, he graduated from a Booker T. Washington High School and was admitted to Morehouse College.
After earning his B.A. degree in sociology, MLK pursued a doctorate degree in theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and later at Boston University where he completed his graduate studies.
At the age of 19, MLK was ordained to the Baptist ministry.
While in Boston, MLK met and later married his future wife, a music student named, Coretta Scott.
Inspired by the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi, MLK led a series of nonviolent protests that challenged segregation in the South. Perhaps the most famous of these protests was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
These protests were held in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks who was fined for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. As a result of his involvement in this incident, King established himself as the virtual voice of the civil rights movement.
Nearly a year later, on November 13,1956 the Supreme Court of the United Stated ruled that laws requiring segregation on public buses were unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, King’s involvement left him open to many dangerous attacks, but instead of being discouraged, King continued to speak out against inequality and injustice regardless of the consequences.
In 1963, King joined forces with activists in Birmingham Alabama who were organizing a series of lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts of local merchants in opposition of the cities segregation laws.
Eager to silence these demonstrations, the local police force used fire hoses and police dogs to subdue the nonviolent protesters. This resulted in a public outcry that got the attention of then President, John F. Kennedy. In turn, Kennedy proposed legislation that would eventually become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During the Birmingham protests, King was arrested and put in jail for 11-days. This experience motivated him to compose one his most celebrated works, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
In this open letter, King addressed his fellow clergymen who had categorized the actions of the demonstrators as “unwise.” He went on to detail how all human-beings have a moral and spiritual obligation to speak out against prejudice.
Perhaps King is most remembered for the peaceful march he led in Washington, D.C. on August 28,1963. This event consisted of a mile-long march from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation a century earlier.
During this event, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of an audience of some 250,000 people.
The following year King became both the youngest man and the third black man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. King was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year.”
King was in the planning stages of organizing a Poor People's March to Washington in 1968 when he was asked to support sanitation workers who were striking in Memphis, Tennessee.
Tragically, on April 4, 1968, King was shot on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. After being rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital he was later pronounced dead.
Following King’s death, Mrs. Coretta Scott King devoted herself to carrying on her husband’s legacy courtesy of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (now known as The King Center) located in Atlanta, Georgia.
The organizations is “dedicated to educating the world on the life, legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspiring new generations to carry forward his unfinished work, strengthening causes and empowering change-makers who are continuing his efforts today.”