Martin Luther King Jr. is a name most Americans know, but who was the man, and what drove him to work for equal rights in America? King was a leader in achieving equal rights for black Americans during the 1950s and 60s. At the time, black and white Americans were segregated, and blacks were not given the same rights as whites. King believed in non-violent protest, and he became one of the most famous leaders in the Civil Rights movement.
King was born on January 15, 1929. He came from a strong Christian background with his grandfather and father pastors for the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Martin went to public segregated schools and graduated from high school at the young age of 15. He continued his education at Morehouse College in Atlanta, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He went on to get advanced degrees in theology.
“I Have a Dream”
In 1954, King became a pastor at a church in Alabama. He also held protests calling for equal rights.
From 1957 to 1968, he was active, traveling more than six million miles and giving more than 2,500 speeches. He wrote five books. Just some of his accomplishments during those 11 years were:
- He led a huge protest in Birmingham, Alabama, which caught worldwide attention.
- He held drives in Alabama to register black voters.
- King organized the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., which had 250,000 people. There he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
- He campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Time magazine named King Man of the Year in 1963.
- King was only 35 years old when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
On April 4, 1968, King was at a hotel, getting ready for a march to support garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. While standing on the balcony, he was assassinated.
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.”