Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader
Martin Luther King Jr., was an important figure in the U.S. civil rights movement during the 1960s. King was a Baptist minister, political activist, and an amazing public speaker who fought against the discrimination of African Americans. He believed in creating political and social change through peaceful protest.
In 1963, King and other civil rights leaders organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They led 250,000 protesters to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At this event, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for racial equality, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The following year, with growing pressure from the public, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. This made it illegal to make decisions about jobs, education, public lodging, and transportation based on race or skin color. This was followed in 1965 by the Voting Rights Act, making racial discrimination in voting illegal.
On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Two months later, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated as well. Kennedy was also a civil rights leader and President John F. Kennedy’s younger brother. These events were part of what made the 1960s one of the most unsettled periods in U.S. history.
In 1983, Congress established a federal holiday marking King’s birthday (January 15, 1929). The holiday is observed on the third Monday in January each year. This year it falls on January 18.
In 1994, Congress named the holiday as a national day of service. As a way of improving their communities and paying tribute to King, Americans are encouraged to spend the day volunteering for a national or local cause.