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I Have a Dream: MLK Jr Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - January 18th

January 18, 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to honor the life and achievements of the civil rights hero.

Biography & A Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a gifted student who attended segregated public schools until the age of 15 when he was admitted to Morehouse College where he studied medicine and law.

It wasn’t until his time at Morehouse College when – under the mentorship of the college’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays – King decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ministry. He graduated in 1948 and entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He then went on to Boston University, earning a doctorate in systematic theology.

While in Boston, he met his future wife, Coretta Scott. The couple had four children together.




After Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her Montgomery bus seat to a white passenger, activists chose Martin Luther King, Jr. as the leader and the official spokesman of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days.



By the time the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public busses unconstitutional in November 1956, King had gained national attention as an inspirational proponent of organized, nonviolent resistance.  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the 1955 bus boycott. (National Archives)

In 1963, he worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices Black Americans continued to face across the country. The March, held on August 28, was attended by between 200,000 and 300,000 participants. This event is widely regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the American Civil Rights movement and a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time…to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

I Have a Dream by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

'I Have a Dream'

It was at the March on Washington where King delivered his most famous address, known as the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

This speech and march cemented King’s reputation, both at home and abroad. Later that year, he was named ‘Man of the Year’ by Time Magazine; and in 1964, he became – at that time – the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis – where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike – Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In the wake of his death, a wave of riots swept major cities across the country, leading President Johnson to declare a national day of mourning.

MLK Jr Legacy

After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress, and Coretta Scott King, among others, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983, creating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of King.

First celebrated in 1986,  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated the third Monday of January, remembering the legacy of this integral figure of the civil rights movement.

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