Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and then from the Crozer Theological Seminary with a Bachelor’s in Divinity in 1951. He received a Ph.D. in Systematic theology in 1955 from Boston University.


In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led the famous bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus. The boycott lasted 381 days and resulted in King being arrested. Despite his arrest, the boycott ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court outlawing discrimination on intrastate buses.


After the boycott, King helped in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which advocated the peaceful protest of Black churches concerning Civil Rights (especially in the American south). Primarily inspired by the non-violent protests conducted by Mahatma Gandhi in India, King was instrumental in helping his cause gain national attention through the media. Because of his efforts, civil rights became the top political issue of the early 1960’s.


In 1963, King delivered the immortal speech “I have a Dream” in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Over 250,000 people gathered around the National Mall in support. King’s speech electrified the crowd and is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. King later led protests and gave speeches for the African American right to vote, desegregation, and fair hiring. In 1964, King’s hopes were realized when congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and then, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On October 14, 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in non-violent protest.


In 1968, while he was organizing a march to protest the working conditions of black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Hotel. Following King’s assassination, major riots erupted in more than 100 American cities, including in Washington D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. King was buried on April 9, 1968. 300,000 people attended his funeral. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning.


Today, numerous schools, buildings, and highways are named for King. In 1986, a U.S. national holiday was established in his honor. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King’s birthday. On January 18, 1993, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states.