Monday will mark the twenty-seventh observation of a holiday honoring a man who took steps to make a positive imprint in society while doing so in a calm and non-violent manner.
Martin Luther King, Jr.--also known more succinctly as MLK--was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to a pastor and school teacher and was the middle child of three. Considered a gifted student, King attended a segregated public school, only to follow in the footsteps of his father and headed to Morehouse College as a fifteen-year-old.
After being mentored by the school's president--who was also a theologian--King changed his mind about entering ministry, graduated college in 1948, and entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he would graduate from seminary with a Bachelor of Divinity degree.
King continued his education through graduate studies at Boston University, where he would during this time meet Coretta Scott, an Alabama-bred singer who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. He would marry Scott in 1953 and earn his doctorate in systematic theology two years later.
His family settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he would serve as the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Also in 1955, the first of his four children--two daughters and two sons--would be born.
Less than a year after settling down in the community, the city would become known as the central point of the civil rights movement, following Rosa Parks' refusal of a bus seat to a white passenger and her arrest in December 1955. A bus boycott would continue for 381 days, with King being chosen as the protest leader and official spokesperson.
King was heavily influenced by Mahatma Ghandi as he began to lead the non-violent charge for civil rights on the national front. Along with other civil rights leaders and ministers, he assisted with the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group who strived for full equality for African-Americans through non-violence.
He would become president of the SCLC and lead the group for eleven years, traveling across the country and the world to discuss calm protests and civil rights while also meeting prominent leaders in religion, politics and activists. During this time, King would also pen several books and articles.
In 1960, King would move his family to Atlanta and co-pastor the Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father. His efforts in non-violent civil rights would continue and would be tested in 1963 when Birmingham--considered the most racially divided cities in the nation at this time--would be protested for their unfair practices and social injustices.
When King was arrested on April 12 of that year for his involvement, he wrote the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to a group of white clergymen. Today, thousands of students study the piece not only for its content but its eloquence.
Also in 1963, King would help organize and lead the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to spotlight the injustices faced by African-Americans. Held on August 28, around a quarter of a million people participated. King would give his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and due to his efforts, Time Magazine named him the Man of the Year.
The next year, due in part to King's efforts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which helped to eliminate legalized racial segregation. In addition, he would become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of thirty-five years old.
The spring of 1965, however, would be an ugly setback in the civil rights movement, when violence broke out by white segregationists toward peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. The incident was broadcast on television, which led to many civil rights supporters taking part in a march from Selma to Montgomery which was led by King and even supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In August of that year, another piece of legislation was passed, the Voting Rights Act. Thus, barriers to vote for African-Americans were completely broken, although the 15th Amendment originally awarded that right.
Unfortunately, militant black leaders began to rise to fame at this time, leading King to broaden his efforts. He would tackle international peace, such as the Vietnam war, and nation-wide poverty among all races. In 1967, the "Poor Peoples Campaign" was initiated, which also involved the SCLC.
But just as soon as his wider outreach would start, everything came to a sudden halt. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Riots ensued throughout the country from the solemn news, while President Johnson declared a day of mourning. His funeral service would be held in Atlanta, Georgia.
Activists, congressional leaders and the family of King would urge federal leaders to find a way to commemorate the fallen civil rights leader. In 1983, President Reagan signed a bill which created a federal holiday in King's honor--to be held on the third Monday in January, with its first celebration held in 1986.
Since its inception, sadly, the holiday has become a time off from the typical routine with sales also thrown in the mix. However, as the presidential inauguration ceremony falls on the same day this year, we cannot forget the legacy left by Dr. King and his non-violent efforts to break racial barriers for generations to come.