Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968), was one of the main leaders of the American civil rights movement. Dr. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time.
He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955 – 1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
In 1953, at age 24, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to comply with the Jim Crow laws that required her to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott urged and planned by E. D. Nixon (head of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and led by King, soon followed. The boycott lasted for 381 days, the situation becoming so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on all public transport.
Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
Awards and recognition
Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 the American Jewish Committee presented King with the American Liberties Medallion for his “exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty.” Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, “Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free.”
- He is considered a saint among several Protestant churches, including the Episcopalian and Lutheran branches.
- As of 2006, more than 730 cities in the United States had streets named after King. King County, Washington rededicated its name in his honor in 1986, and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007. The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the only city hall in the United States to be named in honor of Dr. King.
- In 1965 King was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for ‘Peace on Earth.’
- In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity.”
- Dr. King received The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamaican Government, posthumously in 1968.
- In 1971, King was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording for his Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.
- In 1977, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded posthumously to King by Jimmy Carter. Dr. King is the second most admired person in the 20th century, according to a Gallup poll.
- Dr. King was voted 6th in the Person of the Century poll by TIME.
- Dr. King was elected the third Greatest American of all time by the American public in a contest conducted by the Discovery Channel and AOL.