Any number of historic moments in the civil-rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil-rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. is born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister. King received a doctorate degree in theology and in 1955 helped organized the first major protest of the African-American civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, he advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to segregation in the South. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, but King and his followers persisted, and the movement gained momentum.
A powerful orator, King appealed to Christian and American ideals and won growing support from the federal government and Northern whites. In 1963, Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph led the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the event’s grand finale was King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial to hear the stirring speech.
In 1964, the civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes: the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which abolished the poll tax, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. Later that year, King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In the late 1960s, King openly criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam and turned his efforts to winning economic rights for poor Americans. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
|The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to the media on May 20, 1956, about his arrest for leading the Montgomery bus boycott. (The Associated Press)|
|The Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. walk away from the Montgomery County Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala., in this Feb. 24, 1956, file photo. (Gene Harrick/ AP)|
|The Rev. Martin Luther King is arrested in September 1958 on a charge of loitering (later changed to “failure to obey an officer”) in the vicinity of the Montgomery Recorder’s Court. He was released on $100 bond. (Charles Moore/ AP)|