Since the late 1980s, the third Monday of January has been observed in the United States in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. King is one of the most important forces in the civil rights movement and one of the key figures in the political landscape of the 1950s and 60s. Although he was assassinated in 1968, his influence has lasted for decades and can still be felt today. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. opened to the public on August 22, 2011, joining the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta among the many memorials and honors established to King. Although King’s life was full of important speeches and brave decisions, these are a few of the most enduring moments of King’s life.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person in accordance with the segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama. African-American leaders decided that the time was right to challenge these segregation laws. With organization from E.D. Nixon, the president of the local NAACP, a group began a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery. King was chosen to lead the boycott, which lasted for over a year until a government law, and eventually a Supreme Court decision, made bus segregation illegal. During his time leading the boycott, King’s home was bombed, though he was not harmed.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”
King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped plan non-violent disobedience in Birmingham, Alabama to protest the segregation and racial inequalities occurring in the city. The brutal response by police made news worldwide. For his part in the protest, King was arrested. While in jail, on April 16th 1963, King wrote an open letter, in which he explained the motivation of the protesters. One of the most famous lines from the highly-regarded letter is “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
March on Washington/ “I Have a Dream”
In August 28, 1963, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference combined with a number of other important civil rights groups to organize a massive march on Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and demand changes to the country’s laws. Specifically, they wanted to end segregation in schools, outlaw racial discrimination, and receive protection from police retribution. Known officially as the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the protest included between 200,000 and 300,000 people. It was also the site for King’s most famous speech – and one of the most famous speeches in American history. The “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, galvanized civil rights advocates and lead to important laws being enacted, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Nobel Peace Prize
In 1964, King became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was only thirty-five, but he had already become the face of the civil rights movement. A key to King’s success was his use of non-violent protests, an approach inspired by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. The bravery of the protesters who endured savage treatment from police and others slowly won over many of the whites in the United States who had been undecided about civil rights. King’s promotion of non-violent resistance was also a major factor in his being awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.