Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national holiday honoring the civil rights leader. King dedicated his life to fulfilling his 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.'" Almost four decades after his death, King's vision continues to provide hope and inspiration to the nation.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1944, at the age of 15, King entered Morehouse College in Atlanta. He graduated in 1948 with a B.A. in Sociology. That fall, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Crozer with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951, he began his doctoral studies in Theology at Boston University. He married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. Two years later, in June of 1955, he received his PhD.
Civil Rights Leader
King returned to the South to become the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was there, in 1955, that he launched to the forefront of the national civil rights movement by mobilizing the black community in a 13-month boycott of the city's buses. The non-violent demonstration was ignited by a seamstress named Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. The boycott resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional.
By the late 1950s, King had become a national figure in the civil rights movement. In 1957, he helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which encouraged the use of non-violent civil disobedience to win civil rights for African-Americans. The movement began to see results between the years of 1960 and 1965, when legislation was passed to end racial segregation in public facilities and expand voting rights.
In August 1963, an interracial crowd of more than 250,000 people attended the March on Washington, during which Dr. King made his famous "I Have a Dream speech"
Just one year after the March on Washington, King, at the age of 35, became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In April 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city's striking garbage workers, who were demanding a raise and better working conditions. A sniper shot King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He died later that day. On March 9, 1969, James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to King's murder and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.
Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday
Four days after King's assassination, U.S. Rep. John Conyers from Michigan proposed a law making King's birthday a national holiday. On August 2, 1983, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a law to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national legal holiday on the third Monday in January, beginning in 1986. The U.S. Senate approved the bill, and on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. First observance of Dr. King's birthday as a legal national holiday was on January 20, 1986.