A Breif History of Martin Luther King, Jr.
On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that granted the third Monday in January to celebrate one of the greatest civil rights activists in the country, Martin Luther King Jr.
King, having been born to a minister, was heavily involved in his religious faith throughout his life. He was an active member of the Baptist faith, and often practiced with his father. As a teenager, he was able to procure a minute Baptist Church from his family in his Atlanta hometown, and change it into a lively congregation.
Along with his preaching experience, King’s father influenced his activism. King Sr. considered racism as an insult to God’s teachings, and taught the children that social classes were irrelevant to society.
When King was 12, his grandmother passed away, and left King traumatized. His grief gradually intensified, and he jumped out of a second story window to attempt suicide.
His mourning did not affect his schoolwork, however, because King entered Morehouse College at 15, in 1944.
During his last year of college, the Morehouse College President, Benjamin E. Mays, advised King to use his Christian faith to advocate for social change. King had already been pursuing racial equality, but had failed to connect these two important aspects of his life.
King’s first protest was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. The movement began when another civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a public Montgomery bus, causing her arrest. King was then elected to organize the protest.
“We come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice,” King expressed on the first night of the movement.
At last, King and his activists were successful. On June 5, 1956, the federal court ruled bus segregation to be unconstitutional, violating the 14th Amendment, which gave equal rights to all citizens under federal law.
King’s most famous movement, the March on Washington, was the foundation to his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Monument.
The 250,000 people that attended gathered to shed light on the continuing racial segregation in the country, and were met with King’s famous speech.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“I Have a Dream” incorporated King’s Christian background and his need for racial justice. He did this by encouraging peaceful love for one another and discouraging violence and hate.
Martin Luther King Jr. had been celebrated on his birthday by individual states as early as 1969. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which King was a leader, supported a King holiday in Congress for eight years before it was approved by President Jimmy Carter. The bill, however, did not pass in the House until singer Stevie Wonder organized a petition that gained six million signatures of support.
Fifteen years after his assassination, King was finally given federal recognition for the improvements he made to the United States, not just through the law, but socially as well. His words brought people of all races and backgrounds together to celebrate hope and equality for all. The day in January, free of work and school, should be spent remembering the activist that changed the world, one speech at a time.
Editors, History.com. “March on Washington.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009.
“Martin Luther King Jr.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 Jan. 2019
Romero, Frances. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” Time, Time Inc., 18 Jan. 2010.