Today is the day that Americans commemorate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr, who did remarkable things for civil rights in the United States. During a tumultuous time of prejudice and inequality, King became a leader for standing up for truth and justice. King is known for his commitment to the American Dream and his mission to foster change in society to allow equal opportunity for all. He played an invaluable role in ending legal segregation of African-Americans in the United States.
Dr. King was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His grandfather was a minister, and his father was a sharecropper who later became a minister. King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College, and then decided to pursue the ministry at Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. As a young Baptist minister, he became a civil rights activist early in his career. Not only did he fight for racial equality because his race suffered, but he considered the segregation and inhumane treatment to be an affront to God’s will.
Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and began organizing protests using non-violent civil disobedience in 1957. He delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, and became one of the most recognizable orators in modern history. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience, yet attracted national media attention for his seemingly “radical” views.
Many don’t know this, but King has now been dead longer than he’s been alive. The things he accomplished happened within the lifetime of many Americans, but his legacy has made an impact of people who were born long after his death. In the time that he lived, he did many influential things for human equality in the United States. In his early 30’s he was leading the case of civil rights with President John F Kennedy. At age 34, he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35 for combatting racial inequality with nonviolence.
His most famous speech was given on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC. The protest at the March on Washington was demanding an end of racial segregation in public schools, wage equality, meaningful civil rights legislation, and protection from police brutality. Dr. King delivered a 17-minute speech which was heard by over a quarter of a million people of all ethnicities.
“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.”
The next 5 years of his life were filled with more marches and demonstrations for equality. He received death threats through his involvement in the civil rights movement, and at one point was hit by a brick during a march (but chose to continue to lead the march despite fear of personal danger).
Dr. King was assassinated at age 39 on April 4, 1968 at age 39. He went to Memphis, TN to support the oppressed sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for better treatment. He was booked into room 306 at Lorraine Motel, and his last words before his assassination were “Make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord” in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” At 6:01 pm, he stood on the balcony of the motel, and a shot was fired. He was hit on his right cheek, which smashed his jaw and traveled down his spinal cord to his shoulder. He was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital and pronounced dead at 7:05 pm after unsuccessful chest surgery.
In the last 45 years, Dr. King has been hailed a hero and visionary, and his legacy has been undeniable. Just days after King’s assassination, the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor Dr. King, and it was first observed on January 20, 1986. The holiday is observed the third Monday of January each year, near the time of King’s birthday.
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke many words of wisdom in his life, but this particular quote resonates with me:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Other noteworthy quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Nothing in this world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of good people.”