Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Jan Norwood

Image by Darold Pinnock

Earlier this week we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I am one of the fortunate workers to have Martin Luther King Jr. Day off. I can thank President Ronald Reagan for signing the bill in 1983 that created a federal holiday to honor Dr. King. It’s been almost 54 years since Dr. King walked this earth, but his presence is still felt in the quotes shared on the day we honor him and on the impact he had on so many of us. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael Luther King, Jr. on January 15, 1929, to Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Martin’s dad changed his name from Michael to Martin to honor Martin Luther, a German Protestant religious leader. King eventually followed suit and changed his first name to honor Luther. (Editors, 2022)

King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College in 1948 and then went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. While at seminary, King was influenced by Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays who advocated racial equality and held the view that Christianity could be used as a force for social change. (Editors, 2022) King was working as the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he finished his Ph.D. from Boston University at the age of 25.

In December 1955 on the night Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the “colored section” of the bus, King was chosen to be the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Editors B. , 2022) The boycott lasted for 381 days. The boycott ended in November 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses was unconstitutional. (Editors H. , 2021) The boycott helped to launch King into the national spotlight for his nonviolent approach to combatting segregation. However, the boycott came with a price. King was arrested, his home bombed, and he was targeted with abuse. (AB, 2022)

Encouraged by the success of the boycott, King and other civil rights activists formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. The group’s motto was “Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed”. (Editors H. , 2021) King served as the president of the SCLC until his death.

Over the next 11 years King would take part in many nonviolent campaigns. He traveled over six million miles, spoke over 2500 times and wrote five books. (AB, 2022) Even though he was a proponent of nonviolence finding inspiration from his Christian faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he was assaulted at least four times and stabbed once. (Editors H. , 2021) He was arrested more than 20 times.

On August 28, 1963, King was one of the organizers of the March on Washington to focus attention of the injustices faced by Black Americans. King gave his famous I have a Dream speech at the march.

The crusade for equality did not go unnoticed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government the ability to enforce desegregation of publicly owned facilities and public accommodations. (Editors B. , 2022) The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to King in 1964 for his nonviolent work against racism. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed five months after the march from Selma to Montgomery.

In the spring of 1968 King went to Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers. He was assassinated on April 4 while standing on the balcony of a motel.

Let’s remember King for his work to make the world a better place for all mankind. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.” (AB, 2022)

Resources

Editors, B. (2022, January 8). Martin Luther King Jr. Biography. 

Editors, H. (2021, December 23). Martin Luther King Jr