Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. published by the Nobel Foundation (1964). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. published by the Nobel Foundation (1964). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968)

Civil Rights Leader, Minister, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and told a crowd of 250,000 of his dream that America would one day live up to its creed that “all men are created equal.” Over the previous eight years, King had emerged as one of the foremost leaders of a civil rights movement determined to dismantle the strictures of the Jim Crow South. King started life in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in pews of his father’s Baptist church, but also in a city and a system that judged him by his black skin. At age 15, King passed the entrance exam to Morehouse College and by his senior year he had decided to enter the ministry. He attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and then studied for his doctorate in theology at Boston University. In 1954, he became pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. A year later, King led the Montgomery bus boycott, which protested racial segregation on the city’s buses. Over the course of the 385-day boycott, King was arrested, and his house was bombed. He also emerged as a powerful and persuasive spokesman for the civil rights movement. King’s use of nonviolent protest helped turn the country in favor of civil rights, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Believing there was still work to be done, King embarked on a campaign for economic justice in 1968. While in Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking sanitation workers, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was thirty-nine years old. King was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A national holiday was named in his honor in 1986.