The Life and Accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Maddy Snyder, Staff Writer/Editor

Baptist minister, civil rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and national hero, Martin Luther King Jr. changed the shape of the 20th century by dedicating his life to the equality and justice of African Americans.

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an official day of service and celebrates the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. It is a commemorative celebration of his advocacy to end segregation and improve the living standards for the poor.

After a 15-year battle for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill on November 2, 1983, designating the third Monday in January a federal holiday.  It is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

Dr. King was a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of civil unrest in the 50s. After Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days. The boycott ended November 13, 1956, when the Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation was illegal.

The following year, 1957, King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a nonprofit organization committed to “nonviolent action to achieve social, economic, and political justice.” Under King’s direction, this group protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.

One of these protests took place in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, resulting in King’s arrest. While in jail, he wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, defending his actions to protest segregation and describing the African American experience. King’s essay received national attention, forcing Birmingham to desegregate schools, stores, and restaurants and to remove barriers to African American employment in stores.

Even more famously, King led the March on Washington in 1963. With nearly 250,000 participants, it is the largest civil rights demonstration in history. At the end of the march, Dr. King delivered his famous speech,  I Have a Dream, which addressed the ever-existing discrimination across the United States.

King won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work. At the time, he was only 35 years old, making him the youngest person in history to receive such an award.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. It abolished the discriminatory voting prerequisites that were designed to limit African American influence in national, state, and local politics. After this bill became law, King turned his attention to socioeconomic issues.

In 1966, King formed the Poor People’s Campaign, demanding freedom, jobs, and sanitary living conditions for the poor.

However, King’s plans were cut short on April fourth, 1968, when he was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of his Lorraine Hotel room.

Martin Luther King’s influence regarding the Civil Rights Movement is immeasurable. The United States would not be the place it is today without King’s determination to bring equality and justice to all people, regardless of their skin color.

We honor Dr. King when we engage with our community to address critical issues that divide us. Happy Birthday, Dr. King.