“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King
Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and remember to honor and celebrate the life of this civil rights leader. We want to share some of his story below.
Martin Luther King Jr. was one of America’s greatest leaders. He felt very strongly about the rights of Black Americans. He thought that everyone, Black or White, should have equal rights. The right to work and make an honest living, the right to vote, the right to a good education, and the right to use all public places. Martin believed in using love instead of hate to settle disagreements. He was a very influential leader, one who will always be remembered and honored in this country. This is possible because, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring that beginning in 1986, the third Monday of every January would be celebrated as a national holiday known as Martin Luther King Day.
On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta Georgia. Martin was always taught to treat other people with respect and to settle disagreements with love instead of hate. When Martin was very young, he noticed that some people did not treat others with respect. He saw that White and Black people were treated differently. Martin, his family, and Black friends could not drink out of the same drinking fountains or use the same public restroom as White people.
Martin’s best friend was a little White boy. They played together every day. One day, the little boy’s mother told Martin that her son could no longer play with him. Martin’s mother explained that this was because he was Black and his friend was White. His friend’s mother did not want her son playing with a Black boy. Martin was very sad and did not understand why the color of someone’s skin should make any difference. Martin’s mother held him on her lap and said, “You are as good as anyone.” Martin never forgot what his mother told him.
Martin was an outstanding student and entered college when he was only 15 years old. He decided to become a minister like his father and grandfather. While in college, he began studying about Mohandas Gandhi. This was a man who had shown the people of India how to settle their disagreements peacefully. Martin liked this idea. He began to think about how the people of America could resolve their disputes with love instead of hate.
On June 18, 1953, Martin married a woman named Coretta Scott. She was studying music at the same college in Boston where Martin was studying to be a minister. They moved to Montgomery, Alabama where Martin became a minister. The people of Montgomery had been having problems between the Whites and Blacks for many years, and Martin hoped to help solve these problems peacefully.
In 1955, Martin led a year-long protest against the bus laws in Montgomery. He decided to do this after a Black woman by the name of Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat for a White man on a city bus. She was sitting in the front of the bus with the White people and not in the back where the Blacks were supposed to sit. Martin asked the Blacks not to ride the buses until this law was changed. It took a whole year for this to happen, but when the law was changed, there were no more “White Only” sections on the buses and Blacks were not forced to give up their seat when a White person wanted it.
Dr. and Mrs. King decided to move to Atlanta in 1960. There Martin led many marches and peaceful protests against segregation. He wanted to change the laws that kept Blacks from using the same restrooms, waiting rooms, and lunch counters as the whites. He gave many speeches and always encouraged the Black people to protest in peace and love and to not get angry, even when they were mistreated.
In 1963, Martin led the biggest and most famous march of all – the March on Washington. Thousands of people attended the civil rights march and listened to Martin’s speech. In his speech, Martin told the people about his dream. He said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (Hakim, 1991, p. 23). Many people agreed with Martin and were willing to change the laws, but some were not.
Martin was arrested many times and had to spend time in jail. The people thought that if he was in prison, he could not give speeches and encourage people to change laws that would help the Black people. Although Martin always tried to inspire people to protest in peace, some of his followers did not listen and protested with fighting and violence. Sometimes Martin and his family were put in danger by angry people who did not want the laws against Blacks changed.
In 1964, Martin was given $54,000 for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. This meant that his work for peace and equal rights were recognized all over the world. Martin gave the money to people working for civil rights.
Finally, the nation began to change. Laws were passed that forbade “White only” signs. Martin knew that he still had much work to do, but he was happy with what was happening. Some people were not pleased. On April 4, 1968, Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee to lead a march for Black garbage workers who wanted the same pay as White garbage workers. While Martin was standing on the balcony of his hotel room, he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray, a man who did not want Blacks to have the same rights as Whites.
People all over the world were sad and angry. Although they knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. was gone, they wanted him to be remembered for all the good he did for the people of America. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring the third Monday of every January as Martin Luther King Day.