Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Celebrating The Life & Work Of A Civil Rights Leader

martin luther king jr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Lincoln Memorial during the "March on Washington" in 1963

On the third Monday of January each year, our nation celebrates the esteemed Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King Jr. For MLK Day events and volunteer opportunities near you, visit: https://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia as Michael Luther King, Jr., but his name was later changed to Martin after his father changed his name from Michael to Martin. He was the first son born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King and the grandson of the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. In June 1953 he married Coretta Scott with whom he had four children.

In 1954, while still working on his dissertation, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He completed his Ph.D. and was awarded his degree in 1955. King was only 25 years old. At that time, he also was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the leading organization of its kind in the nation.

Two incidents played a decisive role in the life of Dr. King. The First on March 2, 1955, when a 15 year old girl by the name of Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus and was jailed for it, and a few months later on December 1, 1955, when 42 year old Rosa Parks remained seated after being ordered to get up from her seat and refused. Parks was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, in a 30-minute hearing, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed a $4 court fee.

On the night that Rosa Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP chapter met with Martin Luther King Jr. and other local civil rights leaders to plan a citywide bus boycott. King was elected to lead the boycott because he was young, well-trained with solid family connections and had professional standing. But he was also new to the community and had few enemies, so it was felt he would have strong credibility with the black community.

Dr. King decided to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States; the bus boycott. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses. Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse; however he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.

Through his activism, he played a major role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation, and was responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Voting Act of 1965.

Watch Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington -August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.

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