Martin Luther King was a civil rights activist who spearheaded the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. King championed the ideals of civil disobedience and nonviolence. He opposed the segregationist policies then existing in many southern states.
King led the famous March on Washington in 1963 where he delivered his speech. His speech has since become one of the most iconic speeches in American history.
Martin Luther King was born in Georgia in 1929. His father was an associated with the Church and King would choose a similar career. At an early age, King experienced the segregation in the South firsthand. He entered a reputable local college and then enrolled at a seminary in 1948. He later pursued doctoral studies in theology.
Although the federal government opposed segregation, southern states had implemented segregationist laws locally. In 1955, these laws came to national prominence when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the bus to a white. Parks was arrested as she violated the local segregationist laws.
Martin Luther King and other prominent African-American individuals called for a boycott of buses in Montgomery. This boycott lasted more than a year during which King had to face threats and attacks on his house. The event also confirmed his status as one of the most notable civil rights leaders of the day.
From 1955 to 1963, Martin Luther King published a number of books. He also became a leading figure in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During this period, King led civil rights movements against segregation in different parts of the South. His initiatives met with significant success as the public started to discuss desegregation and the issue caught the nation’s attention.
In 1963, six of the most notable civil rights organizations decided to organize a march on Washington. SCLC was one of the participating organizations, represented by King. This march became one of the milestone events in the history of civil rights movement in the United States.
Nearly 200,000 to 300,000 people attended the march. King was approached by President Kennedy to modify the agenda of the march so that it would inspire less dissent and a more productive outcome. King agreed to this proposal and the federal government significantly supported the organization of the march.
During the March of Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King delivered a 17-minute speech. This speech is today famously known as the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. The name refers to an iconic passage of this speech which reads
‘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’. ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood’.
In 1968, Martin Luther King was shot and assassinated by James Earl Ray. King was staying at a hotel in Memphis at the time and he was shot at the second balcony of the hotel. King’s death led to riots across the nation and many claimed that his death had been caused by a government conspiracy.