January 17, 2022 marks the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor the life and tremendous work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. After King’s death, a national holiday in his honor was requested by those who supported his movement. Legislation for a federal holiday in the king’s name was introduced in Congress as early as 1968, and eventually the third Monday in January was declared a federal holiday in the king’s honor in 1983, and it was observed for the first times nationwide in 1986. Today, civil rights and political leaders typically give speeches accompanied by marches and parades to celebrate King’s legacy that day.
King was originally born on January 15, 1929 as Michael King to Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta King in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, therefore religion had a very important role in King’s life. In fact, King Sr. adopted his name “Martin Luther King” in honor of German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther, and King himself was renamed Martin when he was six years old.
Despite his initial shortcomings in religion, King excelled in education. He started public school at the age of 5 and later attended Booker T. Washington High School. King skipped ninth and eleventh grades and went straight to Morehouse College at the age of 15 in 1944.. He also attended Crozer Theological Seminary, where in his senior year he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, “a scholar whose manners and attitude convinced [King] that a religious career could also be intellectually satisfying,” says the Seattle Times. Mays helped King see Christianity as a potential force for social change, as he himself was a strong advocate for racial equality. This led King to renew his faith and resume his journey of working in ministry. While continuing to focus on religion and becoming a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, King continued his education and began his doctoral training in philosophy and ethics at Boston University in 1951.
Although King was successful in his studies growing up, he was unfortunately not immune to racism during his childhood. Her first experience of discrimination was with her father in a shoe store, where the family were led out the back and forced out after being told they were not allowed to enter the store. Although he’s been through other situations like this, King didn’t let those circumstances shake him and instead let them empower him. He jumped right into the civil rights movement that was happening when he was older and ended up playing a vital role in the success of the movement.
King’s involvement in the civil rights movement began with the NAACP and the Rosa Parks boycott. He was elected to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and his nonviolent approach to protest was highly motivating to others. This approach was also used in numerous protest sit-ins that took place across the South. Despite his peaceful protests, King received many criticisms and punishments, his house was damaged and he was even imprisoned.
However, King persevered through these obstacles and always proved himself to be an influential and effective leader. One of his most famous accomplishments, his “I Have a Dream” speech in which he called for an end to racism and equal civil rights, was certainly proof of that. This speech was given on August 23, 1963 in front of a crowd of 250,000 people and proved to be very effective. This led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “which ended segregation in public places and prohibited discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin”. Not only did this speech lead to national achievements and progress, but it also resulted in King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Over the next few years, however, the slow progress of civil rights in America along with the constant threat of death and harm from his involvement in the movement began to discourage King. On April 3, 1968, he gave a prophetic speech in which he declared: “I have seen the promised land. I might not be with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will come to the promised land. The next day, King was shot by James Earl Ray on his balcony at the Lorraine Motel, which caused an uproar.
Although King lived an unfortunately short life, it was certainly not unforgettable or without influence. The King’s celebrations take place every year at the local level, from schools and towns to the national level, in cities and the country. His many peaceful protests inspired many across the country in his day and continue to inspire many today. At Becton Regional High School, we honor King for his lasting words and actions that sparked lasting change.