A Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Elaina Schilt

King waving to the massive crowd of over 200,000 at the March on Washington in 1963 where he gave his revolutionary “I Have A Dream” speech.

Elaina Schilt, Writer/Designer

      Perhaps one of the most influential and outstanding men in all of American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fought against racial segregation, injustice, and discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. 

      A firm believer in using non-violent methods to achieve his goals, King organized a series of peaceful protests in the form of marches and sit-ins to combat racial inequality. 

      At the age of twenty-five, King became the head pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

       As a pastor, he was able to take a leading role in the struggle for civil rights. His Christian faith influenced his love for others and his wish for an equal society. 

      King’s primary approach to achieving change was through peaceful means. In response to the arrest of Rosa Parks, a black woman who denied her bus seat to a white person, King helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, during which African Americans protested against segregation by refusing to use public transportation. 

      Those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement were not afraid to use violence. There were over forty bombings of schools, churches, and houses in the city of Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights Era. 

      This violence reached its peak in 1963 when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by a group of Ku Klux Klan members and resulted in the death of four young girls. 

      This tragedy outraged King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and on April 3, 1963, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights organized a campaign against segregation that involved a series of marches, protests, and sit-ins. 

      Despite the brutality from police officers and opposing groups, King and his fellow protestors pushed on and continued their nonviolent demonstrations throughout the South.

      However, just nine days later, King was arrested during one of these protests. While in prison, King wrote his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in which he responded to critics by defending the methods he used to bring about change. 

      The letter drew lots of attention from the press, and it was published in newspapers all across the nation. 

      During the 13 years that King was a civil rights leader, he was arrested more than 20 times—an undeniable demonstration of his devotion to the cause.

      The organization of perhaps the most well-known event of the entire Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington, was also headed by King. On April 28, 1963, 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

      It was here where King gave the most famous speech of his career, the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. 

      In this speech, he highlighted the discrimination, segregation, and injustice still present in 1963, a century after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. 

      He also emphasized the urgency and importance of equality for all, regardless of race, saying, 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.”

      King’s unrelenting efforts to the advancement of civil rights eventually paid off. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public facilities employment and in the federal government. The law that nationally outlawed discriminatory voting procedures, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was also a major victory in the fight for equal rights.

      Today, we celebrate King’s life and legacy on the third Monday of January each year. Also recognized as a national day of service, American citizens are encouraged to create a positive difference by serving and volunteering in their communities. 

      Though King was tragically assassinated in 1968, his legacy still lives on. His message of peaceful resistance still resonates with Americans over fifty years after his death. 

      His perseverance, dedication, and passion for improving the lives of others are what make him one of the most admirable figures in American history. He did not once falter or stand down from what he believed in, making the United States a better place for all.