Commemorating the Life, Legacy, and Achievements of Civil Rights Icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King on January 15, 1929, and would become one of the most prominent leaders of the American civil rights movement, which aimed to end discriminatory Jim Crow laws throughout the South and create a more just and equal society for minorities in America. King's early experiences in the South were those of racial segregation and discrimination. However, a trip before he entered college into the unsegregated North exposed him to an equal society where opportunities existed that he had not believed existed before.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, this is an exploration that asks, who was Martin Luther King Jr.? There are many facts about Martin Luther King Jr. that illustrate his dedication to the civil rights movement and commitment to equal opportunities for minorities in America.
Dr. King's Fundamental Beliefs, Faith, and Influences
King's work in the Baptist church, as well as the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, informed his methods and ideology for bringing about change. His non-violent protests and marches were influential in bringing the inequities of discriminatory laws that impacted minorities throughout the South in the 1950s to light.
One of the lesser known Martin Luther King Jr. facts is that his ideology in the latter years of his life involved staunch opposition to the American war in Vietnam, and his beliefs became increasingly liberal. His focus following successes in the civil rights movement was shifting towards ending poverty in America, and the FBI began monitoring King's activities and acquaintances.
Early Portion of the Civil Rights Movement
King's work and prominence in the civil rights movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott, which started in 1955 and lasted 385 days following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white citizen. During this time, tensions rose between residents, resulting in King's home being bombed and his arrest for traveling 30mph in a 25mph zone, which only raised his profile nationally.
In 1957 civil rights activists and leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SLCL) to organize the power of local black churches. The group's ideology was based on non-violent protest, and King became the first president of the organization and would remain the leader until his assassination.
King was a leading force behind numerous protests and marches throughout the American South during the 1950s and 1960s. The Selma voting rights movement led to the so-called "Bloody Sunday," an event where state police attached non-violent protestors that brought national scrutiny of their actions and made the racism in Alabama visible across the nation.
The Iconic "I Have a Dream" Speech
At the March on Washington King departed from his prepared statement to deliver one of the most iconic and memorable speeches in American History. The most famous passage was prompted by support Mahalia Jacks urging King to tell the 250,000 attendees about his dream, upon which he delivered the following:
"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.
This iconic speech remains perhaps King's greatest legacy and was a turning point in the civil rights movement. The March on Washington in 1963 saw the largest gathering of protestors in one place and remains one of the most pivotal moments in American History.
The March on Washington made specific demands of the federal government, including an end to racial segregation in schools, significant legislation regarding civil rights for minorities, an increased minimum wage, and self-governance for Washington, DC, which a congressional committee then governed.
Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day
On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared January 20, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to celebrate his legacy on a date near his birthday. In 1992 George H.W. Bush declared the third Monday of January the official date of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, and all fifty states now observe the holiday.
Traditionally those celebrating his life and legacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day participated in religious gatherings, peaceful marches, days of service, and other activities to give back to local communities and continue his spirit of non-violent protest for equal rights. Volunteering is often viewed as the best way to celebrate his life, as he spent so many years working to improve communities impacted by unjust practices and racial prejudice.
Only two other individuals have federal holidays in celebration of their life in the United States; George Washington and Christopher Columbus. The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. 2023 will occur on January 16 in its thirtieth year as a federal holiday.
King's Family Life and Legacy
King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, and the couple had four children; Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King. Martin Luther Kings Jr.'s kids have remained vocal leaders in the civil rights movement. His widow has an enduring legacy of keeping the fundamental values that King espoused during his life alive.
King's legacy has spread across the globe, and he remains an enduring symbol of non-violent protest and the power of peaceful marches. Numerous statues have been erected in his honor, and his legacy has inspired numerous movements in nations with discriminatory laws, including South Africa, which lifted its Apartheid policies in 1988 following decades of oppression and discrimination.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, as he stood on the balcony of a room he frequently stayed in on his visits to the city. As authorities began to explore who killed Martin Luther King Jr., their primary suspect was James Earl Ray, a resident of nearby Nashville, TN. Ray fled to Atlanta, GA, before going to Toronto, ON, using a false passport and the pseudonym Ramon George Sneyd.
Authorities apprehended him in London as he planned to escape to Apartheid Era South Africa, or Rhodesia, which white supremacists governed. Ray pled guilty to assassinating King on his 41st birthday March 10, 1969, and was subsequently sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray, along with six other inmates, escaped the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and was apprehended three days later, resulting in an additional year being added to Ray's sentence.
Conspiracy theorists have questioned Ray's legacy as the person who shot Martin Luther King Jr. over the years. However, that skepticism is met with hard evidence that was presented during his trial.
King's assassination sparked a wave of race riots across the nation, and numerous political leaders called for peace amid the violence. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for the prominent civil rights leader. Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended King's funeral amid fears that Johnson's presence could spark anger and more rioting or violent protests.
As we celebrate MLK Day, do check out our new Martin Luther King Jr. vintage photo poster. This high quality photo print will be a great addition to your vintage-themed wall. This is an impressive, historic reproduction of 1964 Martin Luther King Jr Vintage Photo.
Image Source: Historic Prints - Martin Luther King Jr Photo Print
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