In his life, he was ahusband, a father, a pastor, a revolutionary civil rights leader and a Nobelprize winner. In his death, he is alegend. Since 1983 on the third Mondayin January we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
A gifted student, Kingentered college at age fifteen, was an ordained minister before twenty andreceived a doctorate at twenty-six. Hebecame pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama, where in 1955 he wasenlisted to help organise a boycott of the public transportation system after awoman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a whiteman. The boycott attracted nationalattention and at twenty-seven, King was arrested for his non-violent protest ofthe bus company’s policies. 381 dayslater, the supreme court ruled the city and state bus segregation lawsunconstitutional. King found himselfcatapulted into the national arena, as a champion of equality and socialjustice.On a hot day in August1963, Dr King delivered a speech that would define the civil rights movementand his legacy.
This, of course, was his”I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial duringthe March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This was Dr King’s debut on the national stage, up until that point he mostlyaddressed small crowds at black churches, rallies or fundraisers, this time hewould be seen by nearly 250,000 people on the ground as well as millions athome watching on television. This was anopportunity to reach a wide audience and persuade the public and the governmentto take action against racial injustice. The night before, Dr King worked with a close group of advisors to getthe speech just right. They worked allnight settling on a final draft in the pre-dawn hours of August twenty-eighth.
The speech was divided into two parts, thefirst listed the injustices that the African-Americans faced. Segregation, police brutality, disenfranchisementand discrimination. The second launchedinto Dr King’s Dream of peace and racial harmony, a vision of a future in whichpeople will not be judged “by the colour of their skin, but the content oftheir character.” This message ofstruggle and hope became the defining moment of not only Dr King’s career butalso the civil rights movement.On April fourth, 1968, atexactly 6:01pm a single shot from the Remington Model 760 rifle struck Dr King. It entered through his right cheek before severelydamaging his jaw and several vertebrae.
King fell vigorously backwards onto the balcony, he was left unconscious.It has been said thatwhen James Earl Ray’s bullet took Dr King’s life in 1968, it killed the man butnot the dream.And like his life’s work,even a holiday in his honour endured intense opposition before prevailing. Originally submitted just four days after DrKing’s assassination legislation proposing his holiday was shuffled around Congressfor 15 years. Many states beganindependently declaring days to commemorate his life.
The long series of congressional debates andpolitical opposition brought ever-greater public pressure to recognise king’ssocial contributions. Finally, in 1983Congress overwhelmingly voted to pass the bill making it veto-proof. President Reagan signed the bill establishingthe third Monday in January a national holiday. After George Washington, he was the second American ever to receive suchrecognition.