Few names are as well-known for strictly positive reasons as Martin Luther King Jr. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, King emerged as the face (and voice) of black Americans who simply wanted to live their lives in peace and enjoy the same rights as their white neighbors. King’s message of peaceful, non-violent protest, built mainly on his deep Christian faith, resonated not only with blacks but also with many whites. Through racism was certainly a problem at the time, many younger Americans were being exposed to black culture and to black people themselves, finding that they were just like them: They liked the same music, the same television programming, and ate the same things. Some older Americans, too, were beginning to soften in their stance on race relations, thanks in no small part to the work of Martin Luther King Jr.
Born the son of a Baptist minister in 1929 Atlanta, King He received a doctorate degree in theology from Boston University in 1955. That same year, he organized the first major protest of the civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott was in reaction to the Rosa Parks incident: A black woman refused to give up her seat to a white man, and was arrested. In 1957, he helped to found the Southern Leadership Conference, which sought the help of black churches in protesting racial injustice. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, the images of blacks being beaten, attacked by police dogs, and shot with fire hoses airing on the nightly news and shocking more moderate Americans. In 1963, King and others were arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, while protesting segregation. It was his 13th arrest. And it wouldn’t be his last.
In 1963, King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where, in front of thousands, delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, saying, in part:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. In 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee by a sniper – James Earl Ray, a racist and escaped convict.
King’s work was officially recognized by the US government when, on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Wilson Reagan signed into law a bill making the third Monday of January “Martin Luther King Day.”