Fifty years ago, on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Since then, the human rights activists’ name has become synonymous with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Dr. King was only 24 years old when he led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott—a major event in the history of African American Civil Rights Movement.
Only two years later in 1957, he became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which he helped found the same year.
As the leader of SCLC, Dr. King formed a large desegregation coalition in Albany, Georgia in 1962, and fought for equal rights.
The movement, however, was unsuccessful as it was met with a strong opposition within city officials. But King was never discouraged by the “limited success,” as he himself called it.
In 1963, he helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and then proceeded to arrange the March on Washington the same year.
Described as one of the largest political rallies for human rights in the history of the US, the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” took place in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963.
It was at this event that Dr. King made his momentous “I Have A Dream” speech for a crowd of approximately 300,000 at the Lincoln Memorial.
The peaceful protest has been said to be the main force behind the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or nationality.
A year later, the Voting Rights Act was passed, banning racial discrimination in voting.
Nobel Peace Prize
Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964, for going against racial injustice without resorting to violence.
According to the King Center, the 35-year-old MLK was the youngest man, the second American and the third black man to receive the honor.
His love for peace became more visible when he openly opposed America’s aggression in the Vietnam War, delivering a memorable speech titled “Beyond Vietnam” at a New York City church on April 4, 1968.
Exactly a year after that speech, on April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
A day prior to his death, King’s flight was delayed because of a bomb threat. In reference to the bomb threat, Dr. King made his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” reads the last speech of King’s career.
Although the first legal steps for a federal holiday in MLK’s honor were taken four days after his death, it took all 50 US states until June 7, 1999 to recognize the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.