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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. King has become a national icon in the history of modern American liberalism.

A Baptist minister, 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. King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. There, he expanded American values to include the vision of a color blind society, and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam War.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.

When you sit back and take in the phenomenal achievements of black history, it is natural to be moved to admiration by some of the great figures of black history including Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and many more. But one name stands head and shoulders above the rest and that is the name Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s legacy of change and his call for the end of racism and segregation in American society is without question the voice that has moved America as no other has done. For while many have showed tremendous leadership, Dr. King clearly demonstrated a vision for the future of America in which black and white worked, lived, played and worshipped together as one society not two.

The honor and reverence all American’s have for Martin Luther King, Jr. is evident in how honored his name has become since his tragic death at the assassins hand in 1968. All around this nation, virtually every U.S. city has named a major road after the great civil rights leader. He singularly has a U.S. holiday named after him, an honor usually reserved for presidents. He has been honored on the U.S. stamp and no school child gets through his or her elementary education without knowing the key phrases from Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

Dr. King’s career in civil rights is inseparable from the early struggles of the civil rights movement from the late fifties going forward. Our images of him walking side by side with his people unifying them behind his leadership and facing tremendous hatred and racial bigotry to take a stand in America to say without compromise that racism would not stand in this country any more.

Those images of Dr. King working and marching with others who shared his courage to step out and make a change for the better are indelible on the American consciousness. For Dr. King was not a leader who sent his messages from the safety and comfort of a far away office. No, he was there, in the midst of his people, marching on Washington arm in arm with the everyday men and women of this country who banded together to fight the evils of racism. It took tremendous courage for Dr. King to take to the streets with his people like he did and it was a risk that eventually cost him his life. But his courage inspired thousands to be courageous too and be one people, one brotherhood who would no longer allow racism to be the rule of law in America.

Dr. King’s famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a hot August 28, 1963 has become so central to our American heritage that it is quoted with reverence by scholars, students and all people seeking their own inspiration from this great man. This speech ranks with Kennedy’s inaugural speech and the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as words that have inspired this nation as none other have been able to do. It is impossible not to get goose bumps reading these key phrases from that historic speech.

* 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 my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
* "Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

When reading Dr. King’s prophetic words to us all, his ideas become our ideas and we all become challenged to make his dream come to life. And that is what is truly the definition of a great leader.

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