In January of each year, the United States Government officially commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, seventy-four years ago, Dr. King died nearly thirty-five years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. In his fewer than four decades of life, Martin Luther King offered courageous, eloquent, and inspiring leadership that transformed the United States and encouraged people around the world.
As the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King led the bus boycott of 1955 that led to an end of bus segregation. In 1957 he became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he broadened his crusade against racial segregation through peaceful, non-violent efforts. In 1963 he led a March on Washington and delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” oration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” he said, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the full meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
The following year, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to end racial segregation, and Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He continued his crusade, campaigning for voting rights, equal opportunity, and the rights and needs of the poor. Tragically, he was assassinated in April of 1968. In his last speech, Dr. King declared that he had been to the mountaintop and had seen the promised land. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
In 1983 Congress enacted legislation providing for Martin Luther King Day, the first federal holiday commemorating the life of an African American.
U.S. Senate Historical Office