Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The story behind a national holiday and a national hero

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Cynthia Zhou, Features Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. We all know the name; we even have a national holiday in commemoration of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. King is an important historical figure as a nonviolent activist, and known as the chief spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement. He is one of the reasons why we can consider America a country of equality. Without King, over 37 million U.S. citizens in our country would not be considered as equal Americans.

King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta Georgia. Working as a humanitarian, Baptist minister, and a civil rights activist, King had a seismic impact on the Civil Rights Movement, which sought to bring equality for African-American citizens in the U.S. One of his most successful and well known protests was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The night that the famous Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, King met with civil rights leaders to plan a citywide bus boycott.

For 382 days, Montgomery’s African-American community walked to work. They faced harassment, violence, and intimidation; but, they also took legal action against the city, arguing that the law mandating segregated public transportation was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s ruling of “separate is never equal”. After the city was defeated in several court rulings and had suffered large financial losses, the city of Montgomery finally lifted the law.

This was only the beginning of Martin Luther King Jr’s battle against segregation. He inspired a group of African-American students in Greensboro, North Carolina to stage a “sit-in”. The students sat at racially segregated lunch counters in stores and put forth their own movement which quickly gained traction in several other cities. Over the course of seven months, the sit-ins had been successful in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities.

Soon, the name Martin Luther King Jr. was gaining national notoriety throughout the country. On August 28, 1963, King successfully launched a massive demonstration on the nation’s capital asking for peaceful change. Over 200,000 people participated in the historic March on Washington. They stood in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, and it was here that King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

That day, over 200,000 people followed the lead of one man who had a dream. A dream to change the world; a dream that all men could be brothers; a dream of equality amongst all people, regardless of race. King’s struggle against discrimination would continue throughout the 1960’s, until his assassination in 1968. His death sparked riots and demonstrations across the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. is the most widely known African American leader of his era. His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, which falls on the third Monday of January, around King’s birthday. We use this day as a reminder for all the work that King did. Thanks to him, over 37 million Americans in our country, are considered equal and true U.S. citizens.