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Get to Know Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembering an influential civil rights leader

By Melissa Hucal January 14, 2015

Martin Luther King Day is more than just a Monday off school. It's a way to remember one of the most influential civil rights leaders in history. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. — a preacher, an orator, a community organizer, and a dad — was the first African American to be granted a national holiday. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that created the federal holiday.

The upcoming holiday is a great time to share a brief history lesson with your kids about the influence that Dr. King had on our country and the influence that he still carries.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. You can actually visit the house where he was born and the church where he served as a pastor when you visit the city. In addition, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and the King Center in Atlanta both honor the history of MLK, as he is often referenced.

MLK was actually named Michael King Jr. at birth, after his father. Both he and his father later changed their names to Martin Luther to honor an important leader of the German Protestant church.

MLK was a great student. In fact, he skipped both the 9th and 12th grades and entered college when he was only 15 years old! He attended Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather, and eventually earned a Doctorate in Theology from Boston University.

He served for many years as a pastor, during which time he worked tirelessly for the equality of all people as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Over the years, he joined with many other civil rights activists to lead non-violent protests across the country.

In August of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. helped to organize the famous March on Washington where over 250,000 people joined together to show their support of equal rights for everyone — including advocating for an end to segregation in public schools, protection from police abuse, and to get laws preventing discrimination in employment. It was here that MLK delivered his most famous speech, "I have a dream."

This famous line from the speech not only sums up his dream, but gives recognition to his role as a father: "I have a dream 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."

Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was 35 when he received the prestigious award on October 14, 1964.

Four year later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. Although his life was cut short, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. continues. He remains an example for all of us to dream and to take action on those dreams.

The following sources were used to write this article: