Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Legacy Continues
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day honors the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a major spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement, protesting racial discrimination in the United States.
Born on January 15, 1929, King grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was an early civil rights activist and minister, who even led a civil rights march. Later on in life, King became a leader in the African-American church, advanced civil rights for people of color through civil disobedience, and led nonviolent resistance against the Jim Crow laws.
A specific example of King’s achievements is the Montgomery bus boycott. Following Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to give up her seat for a white person, about forty-thousand African Americans refused to ride the bus in an attempt to resist segregation in public transport. The leaders of this group elected Martin Luther King, Jr. as the president of their Montgomery Improvement Association. King approached the boycotts with nonviolent resistance, a hallmark of the civil rights movement. Finally, a Montgomery federal court ruled on June 5, 1956, that any law requiring segregated seats on a bus violated the 14th amendment, and so the buses became integrated on December 21, 1956. Shortly after the boycott, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was instrumental in King’s March on Washington.
King’s most famous achievement was his march on Washington when he delivered his “I have a dream” speech. In August, 1963, about 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., all with the aim to draw attention towards inequalities, such as jobs and freedoms, that African Americans faced. King and his SCLC planned a march for freedom while another group planned a march for jobs, so the two groups merged. President John F. Kennedy even endorsed the march. King’s speech was last at the event, and departing from his notes, he spoke for 16 minutes. He spoke of his dream for a brighter future where anyone of any skin color or religious following would “be free at last!”
King went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for using nonviolent resistance to combat racial inequality. Later on, he even expanded his focus to oppose racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War.
Sadly, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, evoking national mourning. Still recognized for the many strides he made in ending inequality, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established in some states and cities in 1971, and enacted at a federal level by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Though decades have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, the effect he had on the United States of America can be recognized everywhere. In schools, in court, and in public, it is clear that King’s dream lives on.