Updated: Jan 12
People across the nation celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s honorable legacy and efforts during the civil rights movement every year on the third Monday in January. Although King is most recognizable for his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, there is far more history behind this profound advocate and the unraveling of what is now known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
King was a baptist preacher and advocate of racial equality during the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King’s legacy began with his involvement in the bus boycotts of 1955.
King was known for his peaceful advocacy and non-violent boycotts and marches. His “I Have a Dream” speech presented his beliefs of a society rooted in democratic ideologies and founded on the American dream. King delivered his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to half a million listeners. His televised speech put African American rights at the forefront of the national agenda. His actions paved the way for the legislature addressing racial equality.
King’s assassination sparked outrage among American citizens and inspired advocates to continue his legacy. Many riots broke out following his death which encouraged congress to quickly pass the civil rights legislation protestors had been advocating for. Shortly after his death, the “Equal Housing Bill” passed, marking the last piece of significant legislature from the civil rights movement.
King’s birthday was not recognized as a national holiday until years after his death. Many citizens started campaigns to establish a national holiday and overcame significant backlash in the process of doing so. Finally, in 1983, president Ronal Regan signed a bill to nationalize the day commemorating King’s legacy.
This holiday not only serves to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s accomplishments but also as a reminder of the struggles African Americans faced during the civil rights movement.