Friday, January 15, 2010

Americans Celebrate Achievements of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

1964 Nobel Peace laureate

Civil rights giant that fought for principles with universal applicability

Son of the prominent Atlanta pastor Martin Luther King Sr., King at the age of 26 completed a doctorate in theology at Boston University. In 1954, King accepted the pastorate at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was in Montgomery the following year that Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress, was jailed for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated municipal bus to a white passenger. King led the organization directing the Montgomery Bus Boycott and became the movement’s public face. When the federal courts declared the bus segregation law unconstitutional, King emerged as a national figure.

During the early 1960s, King initiated a number of peaceful protests against segregated institutions. In May 1963, Birmingham, Alabama, Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor unleashed police dogs and high-pressure fire hoses against peaceful demonstrators, many of them schoolchildren. The images horrified the nation. King was arrested during these demonstrations and from his jail cell produced Letter From Birmingham City Jail, in which he argued that one who breaks an unjust law to arouse the consciousness of his community "is in reality expressing the highest respect for law," provided he acts "openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty."

That August, African-American leaders organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Here, before an estimated quarter million civil rights supporters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, King offered one of the most powerful orations in American history. Generations of schoolchildren have learned by heart lines from the I Have a Dream speech, in which King prayed for the day when people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

King was in Memphis, Tennessee, in support of striking black garbage workers when, on April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet cut him down at the age of 39.

This holiday honors the courage of a man who endured harassment, threats and beatings, and even bombings. We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.

Check in your local American Corner for events observing Martin Luther King Day

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