In less than 13 short years, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made more of a positive mark on American history than most do in a lifetime. His leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, allowed African Americans to achieve more real progress toward racial equality in America than all of the previous 350 years had ever generated. According to TheKingCenter.org, “Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.”
He was born Michael Luther King, Jr. on January 15, 1929 but he later changed his name to Martin. Dr. King had a long list of accomplishments. These are some of his most noteworthy achievements that shaped the way for racial equality:
1955: Dr. King became the spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This was a campaign to force integration of the city’s bus lines in Montgomery, Alabama. After 381 days of peaceful protest, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.
1957: Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This was an organization intended to provide new leadership for the growing civil rights movement. Dr. King served as head of the organization until his assassination on April 4,
1968. It was during this period of time that he was regarded as the most significant social leader of the modern American civil rights movement.
1963: Dr. King led a coalition of many civil rights groups in a peaceful, nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama. At that time, this was a city that was described as the “most segregated city in America.” It was during this important campaign that Dr. King wrote the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this work, Dr. King laid out on paper his philosophy and tactics that are deemed of such great consequence that it is required to be read in schools and universities around the globe. During that same year Dr. King was one of the powerful influences behind the March for Jobs and Freedom which was also known as the “March on Washington.” This famous march drew over 250,000 people to the national mall in D.C. and it was at this march that he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This brilliantly powerful inspirational speech helped encourage the nation to act on civil rights equality and from then on he wound up being known as a “social change leader.” Because of the march, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964. This abolished legalized racial segregation in America. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against minorities in not only hiring of jobs and public accommodations, but also in transportation and education. He was also named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.
1964: Dr. King was 35 years old when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time, he was the youngest person to have ever had the honor. His acceptance speech in Oslo is said to be one of the most influential ever delivered at the event. According to NobelPrize.org, “When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.”
1965: Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that removed the remaining obstacles for African American voters. This regulation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL “March for Voting Rights” that Dr. King led.
1965-1968: Dr. King concentrated on economic justice and international peace speaking out against the Vietnam War.
1968: On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life of peaceful protest and influential leadership tragically and abruptly came to an end. He was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee while standing on his hotel room balcony. Dr. King was there to lead a protest march to support the garbage workers who were striking in Memphis.
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