One of the main leaders of the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. A Baptist minister by training, King became an activist early in his career, leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helping to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Taking inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, King utilized nonviolent civil disobedience to raise consciousness. Between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, providing what he called a coalition of conscience and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, a manifesto of the black revolution. He planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of African-Americans as voters and his monumental 1963 March on Washington, DC in which Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, electrifying the crowd.
This speech is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. King conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963, and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
“If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“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 believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”
– Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
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