Americans honor Martin Luther King, Jr. each year on the third Monday in January. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated in 1986. King was born on January 15, 1929 and was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most significant and compelling civil rights activists in history. He is often recalled as a model of peaceful resistance and a hero of the civil rights movement. He was born in Georgia and became a minister in 1947, and a pastor of an Alabama Baptist church in 1954. He strongly believed that segregation was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and led a boycott of segregated bus lines in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, which led to their integration the next year. Calling for non-violent resistance, he organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight for civil rights.
In 1963 King spoke at the March on Washington. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King electrified the crowd of 250,000 with his “I Have a Dream” speech. He invoked the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality. This speech would become one of the most well-known speeches of the 20th century.
In the years that followed, King led civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Television cameras captured police brutality on peaceful marchers exercising their right to assembly. While imprisoned for marching in April 1963, King wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which is regarded as a manifesto of the civil rights movement. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Throughout his life King spoke often, before many crowds, in an effort to promote and expand liberty and equality for Americans with his right to freedom of speech.
King was assassinated in 1968. His funeral was attended by 300,000 people. In 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other American heroes, see our curriculum Being an American: Exploring the Ideals That Unite Us.