Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 12, 2024

Every year, we pause on the third Monday of January to reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ideals he stood for.

Dr. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929, during the Jim Crow Era. During childhood, King was shown nonviolent protest against racism by his father, who himself became a follower of the historic Martin Luther after visiting Germany. From a young age, King saw firsthand the pain of racism when a white friend’s father banned their friendship upon entering the segregated school system.

In his adolescence, King enrolled in Morehouse College early at the age of 15. Due to World War II, the college was accepting anyone who could pass the entrance exam. During his senior year, King decided to enter the ministry to fill his urge to serve humanity and fight racism. This agenda was infused with his sermons, where he would use them as, “a respectful force for ideas, even social protest.”

After receiving his Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955, King moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and soon was thrust into the center of the Civil Rights Movement. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, King’s church became the coordination site for a group of local ministers and King was elected the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association. African Americans across the city began to boycott the bus system, demanding to be treated equally and for African Americans to be hired as bus drivers. After more than a year of boycotting, the District Court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional.

King’s popularity soon began to soar and he went across the South leading multiple movements. Besides the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, two of the most known were Birmingham and Selma. In Birmingham, King and his supporters began sit-ins and peaceful protests to fill the jails. Police infamously used fire hoses and dogs in response to the protesters under the command of “Bull” Connor. In jail, King received criticism from white ministers, which he rebuked in his famed “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He later helped organize and partook in the Selma Marches to Birmingham.

He is best remembered for his I Have a Dream speech during the 1963 March on Washington. This feat of oratory was the final push needed for Congress and President Kennedy to take up Civil Rights Legislation. Today, it is remembered by millions and inspires all, young and old.

In his later years, he was a vocal critic of the government and the Vietnam War and kept pushing for full implementation of the Civil Rights Acts. On April 4, 1968, he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray outside of his Memphis hotel room where he was supporting African American Strikers.

After years of debate, King’s birthday was declared by Congress to be a Federal Holiday in 1983. He serves as a reminder to all of us of the power of speech, non-violent action, and community in the fight for a “more perfect union” in which “liberty and justice for all” is more than a phrase uttered, but a reality.

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