On January 21, 2019, we celebrate Martin Luther King Junior Day, but who is he?
He was an important leader during the Civil Rights Movement which was meant to bring equal rights to people of all race. At the time, African-Americans couldn’t participate in certain aspects of daily life. For example, black people couldn’t eat in the same restaurants as white people, and they couldn’t use the same bathrooms or water fountains.
African-American children received completely different schooling than whites. Separating people based on race is called segregation. In the south of the U.S., there was a lot of segregation, all enforced by Jim Crow laws, which made it illegal for African-Americans to associate with the whites. If a White and an African-American married, that was considered extremely illegal in many states. Even in the north, African-Americans couldn’t live near white people and many lived in separate neighborhoods.
King, Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia as Michael Luther King, but later became Martin. His grandfather and father were both pastors. As a child, Martin Luther attended a segregated school for black children. He graduated from high school at age fifteen and received his B.A. degree.
When he moved north to Philadelphia and Boston he could tell easily that blacks and whites mixed better there. He later moved to Montgomery, Alabama with his wife, Coretta Scott King, and became a pastor. Around the same time, Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus for a white man. He joined Jo Ann Robinson, an activist, to assemble a massive boycott of the Montgomery Bus System, and for a year, most blacks didn’t ride the bus. Some were attacked for walking and not riding the bus!\ King’s home was bombed and he, along with other activists, was sent to jail. This brought national attention to the situation and in 1956, the Supreme Court banned segregated buses.
Then, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led protests and boycotts and marched over the country. The most important march was The March on Washington, which was in front of Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King made his famed “I Have a Dream” speech. In his speech, he preached,“One day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boy’s and white girls as sisters and brothers.” His speeches helped inspire a number of people. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a year later, the Voting Right Act of 1965 was passed. He received the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of thirty-five. In 1968, on the fourth of April, he was assassinated while out on the balcony of a motel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
It is important to remember how far the country has come since then. We have had more equality for people of other races. We even had Barack Obama as the first black president. It is important to celebrate the efforts of all the people who made the country what it is today.