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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday

"I have a dream that one day 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.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 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. I have a dream today."
~An excerpt from the speech made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.~

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. The date set aside to honor him by celebrating his birthday is the third Monday of January which falls around the 15th. Although the argument for a National holiday in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was made soon after his assassination in 1968, it took a long and divisive struggle to get it passed by congress.

It took many ordinary people, high profile personalities, and politicians who believed in the message taught by Dr. King to come together and work tirelessly to make his birthday a national holiday. Millions of signatures were collected in a favorable petition for the holiday and it got the attention of members of congress. An added boost to the Dr. King's holiday cause was the release of the song "Happy Birthday" by Stevie Wonder. Wonder had worked for many years in an effort to make Dr. King's birthday a national holiday.

The bill making Dr. King's birthday a holiday was finally passed and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and was first observed as a federal holiday in the United States in 1986. Even after the bill was signed into law, several states refused to honor it. It was not until the year 2000 that all fifty states officially began observing January 15th as a national holiday in Dr. King's name.

Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, King attended segregated public schools. He was a brilliant student, skipping both the 9th and 12th grades at Booker T. Washington High School and entered Morehouse College the age of 15.

He graduated from Morehouse with a bachelors degree in sociology in 1948 and that fall, entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. At Crozer, he was elected student body president, was the valedictorian of his class, and in 1951, earned a Bachelor of Divinity Degree.

While at Crozer, King won the Pearl Plafker Award for the most outstanding student and the J. Lewis Crozer fellowship for graduate study in which he could study at the university of his choice. He decided to go to Boston University where he earned a Doctorate Degree in Systematic Theology in 1955. When King was awarded his Ph.D. degree, he was only 25 years old.

While studying at Boston University, King met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer who was attending the New England Conservatory School in Boston. They were married in June of 1953 and had four children, Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter, and Bernice.

Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. During this time, Dr. King, who had always been an advocate for civil rights, became an executive member to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (The NAACP).

In 1957, Dr. King helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This gave him a wider platform to reach the national conscience of America in which he did effectively by leading non-violent marches around the country. During this time, Dr. King was jailed several times, beaten, and his home firebombed, yet, he maintained a his conviction for non-violent protest.

In 1963, Dr. King led the March on Washington in which over 250,000 people of all races converged. There, he gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech which still resonates strongly throughout the country and around the world.

During the course of his life, Dr. King wrote numerous books, articles, letters, and gave speeches around the world. In 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work aimed at ending racial segregation and discrimination through peaceful civil disobedience and non-violent means.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His death brought a tragic end to the life of one of the most gifted civil rights leaders in the history of the world.

Dr. King's influence is still felt around the world today. Many of the doors that are open for people of all races, colors, creeds, and nationalities can be traced dircectly to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.~


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