Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017
“I have a dream.”
Those four words, spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, have transcended time, politics, and cultural boundaries.
Revered as one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history, Dr. King’s activism contributed to the advancement of civil rights and legal equality for African-Americans in the 1950s and 60s. His legacy still lives on today, as we celebrate and reflect on Dr. King’s life, his sacrifice, and the contributions he made to the American Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. King was born Michael Luther King, Jr. on January 15, 1929 (later changing his name to Martin). In 1948, following in a long line of pastors within his family, Dr. King became an ordained Baptist minister. In the same year, he also earned his BA degree from Morehouse College. In 1951 he obtained his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary, and in 1955 he graduated from Boston University with a PhD. He became heavily involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which then ushered him into leadership positions within the civil rights movement.
Throughout Dr. King’s lifetime, he accomplished countless civil rights milestones. According to The King Center, his accomplishments are now taught to American children of all races, and his teachings are studied by scholars and students worldwide. Here are just a few of Dr. King’s important achievements over the years:
- In 1955, he was recruited to serve as spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a campaign by the African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama, to force integration of the city’s bus lines. After 381 days of nearly universal participation by citizens of the African-American community, many of whom had to walk miles to work each day as a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.
- In 1963, Dr. King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew more than a quarter million people to the National Mall. It was at this march that Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights. He was later named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”
- In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Also in 1964, partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States.
- In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a 5-day, 54-mile march to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, to champion voting rights for the African-American community.
- That same year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers for African-Americans to vote; in some locales, they had been almost completely disenfranchised.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law making Dr. King’s birthday a federal holiday. Every year, on the third Monday of January, near Dr. King’s birthday, we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and celebrate his legacy of service to the civil rights movement and the world.
Today, take a moment to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King. As President Obama eloquently stated, “Dr. King's voice rang out with a call for us to work toward a better tomorrow. As we honor his legacy, Americans across the country will join one another for a day of service, picking up the baton handed to us by past generations and carrying forward their efforts. As one people, we will show when ordinary citizens come together to participate in the democracy we love, justice will not be denied.”
Written by Ben Cummings, Digital Marketing Specialist
About Dr. King
Martin Luther King Jr., Federal Holiday, 2015