by RACHAEL FEIL
The famous reverend, Martin Luther King Jr., was one of the most influential leaders during the African-American Civil Rights movement in the 60’s. An American pastor, activist, and humanitarian, he helped accelerate the shift towards integration by using non-violent civil disobedience, and consequently changed the lives of many.
MLK became involved with the fight for civil rights early in his career. He was in his twenties when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, King discovered a perfect opportunity to start a movement. He started the bus boycott to make the public aware that African Americans were ready to make a change. All of his efforts were in pursuit of equality among all races and justice in the law.
Later, in 1957, MLK helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and served as its first president. With this organization he led an unsuccessful struggle against injustice in Albany, Georgia, in 1962, and instigated nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama. These protests received national attention after scenes of a brutal police response were televised.
King was arrested on various occasions for his instigation and participation in the movement. One of these times was in Birmingham following one of his non-violent demonstrations against segregation. Police put him in the Birmingham City Jail for demonstrating without a permit. King was imprisoned for eleven days, and during this time he wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham” in response to local clergymen’s request for the blacks to end all demonstrations. In this letter, King argues that it was his moral obligation to disobey unjust laws, much like the famous writer Henry David Thoreau. African Americans had gone too long without having full citizen’s rights and MLK was brave enough to do something about it.
The next year, in 1963, he helped organize the March on Washington, where he delivered his famous and inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech brought hope among all the African Americans that one day, there would be equality among men. As part of his speech, MLK explained:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. 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. I have a dream today.” -Martin Luther King-
MLK helped not only himself and his people, but all others that desired equality, both during his time and in the times to come.
For his work in combating racial equality through nonviolent measures, MLK received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His work did not stop there, however. In 1965, he and the SCLC arranged the Selma to Montgomery marches. He also expanded his focus to include poverty and the Vietnam War. In 1968, MLK was planning a national occupation of Washington DC, which would be called the Poor People’s Campaign, but that was interrupted when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee later that year.
Posthumously, MLK was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Because of his great influence, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a US Federal Holiday in 1986, a holiday that we celebrated as we had the day off from school last Monday. On all future Martin Luther King Jr. Days, let the day serve as a reminder of the greatness of him and his influence upon all generations.