By Stacey Hollenbeck
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his mark on history during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Motivated by his faith, King fought against the oppression of his fellow African-Americans by protesting segregation. His efforts to combat the injustices were met with hostility and hatred, and eventually led to his early death. But King’s drive to achieve harmony among the races led to the desegregation of the country and set America on the path toward racial equality.
History of the day
In 1986, nearly 18 years after his assassination, Americans celebrated the first Martin Luther King Day, a holiday established to pay homage to the preacher and inspirational leader. By this time, 17 states already had established holidays to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King, his widow, worked hard to make the national holiday a reality.
In 2003, the theme of Martin Luther King Day became, “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A day on, not a day off.” Although some professionals and students see the third Monday in January as a day off from work or school, others see it as an opportunity to volunteer their time. By working to improve their communities and help those in need, these Americans are acting on behalf of King’s generous spirit.
To truly celebrate Martin Luther King Day and honor its “Day of Service” theme, Americans can work to improve the lives of those in need or help out in their communities. To find a specific volunteer opportunity near you, go to www.mlkday.gov and click “Search for MLK Day Project.”
Martin Luther King Jr. devoted his life and career to protesting injustice. The following timeline identifies the times and places in King’s short life where he significantly influenced the civil rights movement and the future of America.
• Jan. 15, 1929: Martin Luther King Jr. was born to the Rev. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr. in Atlanta, Ga.
• 1947: King became licensed to preach.
• June 18, 1953: King married Coretta Scott in Marion, Ala. Coretta Scott King continued her husband’s legacy as a civil rights activist until her death on Jan. 30, 2006.
• June 5, 1955: King received a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University.
• Feb. 21, 1956: King and other demonstrators were arrested for participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In December of that same year, the federal government ordered Montgomery buses to integrate.
• Feb. 18, 1957: Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
• February 1959: King and his wife spent a month in India studying Mahatma Gandhi’s technique of nonviolence. King was an avid fan of nonviolence, a strategy where demonstrators, instead of using violence, protest peacefully.
• Oct. 19, 1960: King was arrested for trespassing while taking part in a sit-in demonstration at a lunch counter in Atlanta, Ga. Sit-ins were nonviolent anti-segregation protests where Black demonstrators refused to leave restaurants and public places that were designated as White-only.
• Dec. 16, 1961: While protesting segregation in Albany, Ga., King was arrested.
• July 27, 1962: King was again arrested in Albany, Ga., after taking part in a prayer vigil. He was charged with failure to obey a police officer, obstructing the sidewalk and disorderly conduct.
• April 16, 1963: After being arrested in Birmingham, Ala., for participating in a sit-in, King wrote “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The letter is now one of King’s most famous statements about injustice.
• Aug. 28, 1963: King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the thousands who gathered for The March on Washington. Afterward, he and other Civil Rights leaders met with President John F. Kennedy in the White House.
• Dec. 10, 1964: King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
• Aug. 5, 1966: King was stoned in Chicago as he led a march through crowds of angry Whites.
• April 4, 1968: King was shot while on the balcony of his second-floor motel room in Memphis, Tenn. He later died from a gunshot wound to the neck. A day earlier, King gave his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top.”
• March 9, 1969: James Earl Ray plead guilty to killing King and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.
• Jan. 20, 1986: The first national King holiday was observed.