Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

Federal holiday; schools, banks and government offices are closed in observance

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, the year he received the Nobel Peace Prize. (Public domain)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, the year he received the Nobel Peace Prize. (Public domain)

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. Schools, banks and government offices are closed in observance.

The day honors the anniversary of the birth of the late civil rights leader, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 when he died.

From an online biography:

King is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. With the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He also helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On Oct. 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the following year he and the SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In the final years of his life, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War, alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”

In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. King’s death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Ray, who fled the country, was arrested two months later at London Heathrow Airport. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison for King’s murder, and died in 1998 from hepatitis while serving his sentence.

King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington State was also rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963 during the March on Washington. (National Archives)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963 during the March on Washington. (National Archives)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and others look on.(Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office/Public domain)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and others look on. (Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office/Public domain)

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