The life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted by: ShareAmerica

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Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality in the United States. The third Monday in January marks Martin Luther King Day, a U.S. holiday that honors King’s legacy and challenges citizens to engage in volunteer service in their communities.

Beginning the journey

A two-story yellow house with brown shutters and wraparound porch (National Park Service)
A two-story yellow house with brown shutters and wraparound porch (National Park Service)

Born on January 15, 1929, to a long line of Baptist ministers, King grew up in Atlanta at a time when Jim Crow laws made segregation and discrimination a daily reality for blacks in the South.

King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he came to view religion as a powerful catalyst for social change. He received his doctorate from Boston University’s School of Theology before returning to the South, where he served as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Today, King’s Atlanta birthplace is registered as a National Historical Site with the National Park Service.

Civil rights struggle in the 1950s

Martin Luther King with hand on boy's shoulder at head of line of demonstrators at street (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King with hand on boy’s shoulder at head of line of demonstrators at street (© AP Images)

King helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott, a yearlong campaign touched off when seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. After the Supreme Court overturned Alabama’s bus segregation laws in 1956, King co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and promoted nonviolent action for civil rights throughout the South. He was influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and traveled to India in 1959.

An iconic figure of the 1960s

King seated, looking upward through jail cell bars (National Archives)
King seated, looking upward through jail cell bars (National Archives)

Joining his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King continued to use his oratorical gifts to urge an end to segregation and legal inequality. Throughout the 1960s, he was arrested during nonviolent protests in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. While incarcerated after one such arrest, in 1963, King penned the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, outlining the moral basis for the civil rights movement. That August, he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington.

King leading throng of marchers across bridge (© AP Images)
King leading throng of marchers across bridge (© AP Images)

March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday because voting-rights marchers were beaten by state troopers and civilians as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The violence turned them back, but the ordeal led King to call for another, longer march (pictured) — an 87-kilometer-long, Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.

Civil rights victories

King accepting signing pen from Lyndon Johnson, seated, as others look on (© AP Images)
King accepting signing pen from Lyndon Johnson, seated, as others look on (© AP Images)

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination in employment, public accommodations and other aspects of life. King attended the signing of the act into law (pictured). He continued to press for a law to ensure that blacks could not be denied the right to vote by discriminatory practices such as literacy tests, and, in 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

In the wake of assassination

Martin Luther King's coffin in wagon amid throng of mourners in street (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King’s coffin in wagon amid throng of mourners in street (© AP Images)

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony outside his Memphis, Tennessee, hotel room. At his funeral, thousands of mourners marched through Atlanta behind a mule-drawn wagon bearing his coffin.

In a posthumously published essay titled “A Testament of Hope,” King urged black Americans to continue their commitment to nonviolence, but also cautioned that “justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”

King’s legacy: Nonviolent protest

Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King with group of people (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King with group of people (© AP Images)

In a 1959 radio address during his visit to India, King said: “Today we no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” His philosophy was inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent action to end British rule in India. In his turn, King inspired others to change their societies through nonviolent means, from the Solidarity movement’s cracking of Soviet occupation in Poland to Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

King’s legacy: Fighting prejudice

Martin Luther King speaking at 1963 March on Washington (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King speaking at 1963 March on Washington (© AP Images)

During the 1963 March on Washington, King declared that all people should be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The King Center in Atlanta is a living memorial to King’s vision of a free and equal world dedicated to expanding opportunity, fighting racism and ending all forms of discrimination.

King’s legacy: Pursuing social justice

Martin Luther King in shirt sleeves, gesturing dramatically while speaking from the pulpit (© AP Images)
Martin Luther King in shirt sleeves, gesturing dramatically while speaking from the pulpit (© AP Images)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University is home to the King Papers Project, a comprehensive collection of all of King’s speeches, correspondence and other writings. The institute is also involved with the Liberation Curriculum Initiative and the Gandhi-King Community, both of which use King’s life and ideas to connect social activists around the world working to promote human rights.

King’s legacy: Service to others

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint Martin Luther King Jr. quotes as part of a volunteer community service project. (© AP Images)
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paint Martin Luther King Jr. quotes as part of a volunteer community service project. (© AP Images)

In the U.S., Martin Luther King Day is designated a national day of service. Americans are urged to celebrate “a day on, not a day off” in honor of King’s commitment to improving the lives of others. President Obama promotes volunteerism as a way to help meet the challenges facing our world.

Keeping the dream alive

© AP Images
A black man putting his hand on the MLK Memorial, with bowed head (© AP Images)

A national memorial to King was built near the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The memorial invites visitors to reflect on King’s life and legacy.

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The Struggle for Civil Rights: From the Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by Doug Morrow, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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This year, we mark two important landmarks in African-American history, and in the United States’ long march toward racial equality and civil rights. January 1, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, in which U.S. President Abraham Lincoln freed most African-Americans from slavery. August 28, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, in which the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, calling for all people to be treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin.

Slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation

In 1860, over 3.9 million African-Americans were enslaved in the United States; in certain states such as South Carolina and Mississippi, over half of the total population was enslaved, and in states such as Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia, enslaved people made up over 40% of the population. Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia also had significant slave populations. That year, led by South Carolina, several southern states began seceding from the United States (to form the “Confederate States of America”), upset that the northern (“Union”) states were refusing to return runaway slaves, among other complaints, and fearing that newly-elected President Lincoln would seek to end slavery in the United States.  Continue reading “The Struggle for Civil Rights: From the Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King, Jr.”

50 States in 50 Days: Washington, D.C. – A Capitol City

Posted by Natalya Smith, Consular Officer

View of the Washington Monument from Kennedy Center rooftop

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My name is Natalya Smith, and my favorite city in the world is Washington, D.C. It is commonly referred to as the District, short for the District of Columbia. DC is not a state, but rather an administrative area located on the land donated by the state of Maryland along the Potomac River. It’s the capital of the United States, and is famous for its monuments, museums, the White House, the Capitol Building, and its universities and historic sites.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Washington is to visit the Kennedy Center (the National Center for the Performing Arts) after work, getting a bite to eat at the rooftop cafe, and enjoying the view of the city, the Potomac river, and the planes coming in for landing at the Reagan National Airport. And then, I can enjoy an evening full of opera, ballet, or classical music performed by some of the best musicians and entertainers in the world. If residents or tourists cannot afford full price tickets, every evening there are also free shows at the Millennium Stage welcoming everyone to enjoy and appreciate the art of singing, dancing, and music.

The National Mall is a cluster of monuments, museums, and historic sites in the heart of Washington, D.C. On the one end of the Mall is the Capitol Building which houses the legislative branch of our government. It is open for visitors and provides a thrilling opportunity to watch members of Congress debate and vote on what may become U.S. law.

Lincoln Memorial and the Replecting Pool

On the other side of the Mall are the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool — an impressive tribute to the President who lead the nation at the turbulent time of the Civil War. But when I think of the Lincoln Memorial, I immediately envision Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement, addressing thousands of Americans against the background of the Lincoln Memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and painting the future of a more just, equal, and tolerant nation. Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: Washington, D.C. – A Capitol City”

50 States in 50 Days: Alabama – Sweet Home

Posted by: John Gregg, Visa Chief

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Growing up in Alabama, I learned about the victories of the civil rights movement in my state from an early age. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. conducted some of his most famous marches here in places like Montgomery, Selma, and my hometown of Birmingham. You can visit sites from this history today among many others in a green, friendly, and sports-mad state.

Alabama Civil Rights Trail

Europeans settled Alabama in large numbers in the early 1800s. The settlers replaced the Native American population and developed an agricultural economy based on slavery. Alabama became the United States of America’s 22nd state in 1819, but seceded with several others at the start of the U.S. Civil War. The Confederacy’s first capital was in Montgomery, and even after the war, racial discrimination persisted for a long time. It took Dr. King and countless other civil rights activists to push Congress to end legal discrimination in the 1960s. Today, an entire district of Birmingham’s historic downtown is devoted to memorials of the protest era. The state’s economy is considerably more diversified that the cotton farms of the past. For instance, Birmingham has both a large steel industry and a significant medical sector, based at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville

The city of Huntsville played a key role in another aspect of America’s history: the space race. The rockets and capsules that carried American astronauts to the moon were developed there, and many have been preserved at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center along with other attractions. These include Saturn moon launch vehicles, Apollo Program command and lunar modules, and the U.S. Space Camp which attracts children from around the world. Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: Alabama – Sweet Home”

Prelude to Black History Month, Part One: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché, and Heather Fabrikant, Deputy Cultural Attaché

During this week, we mark the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, one of the most important figures in American history. We’re also looking forward to February, which is Black History Month in the United States, a time to highlight the many contributions that African-Americans have made to our country. We will also be welcoming Mary Wilson to Kyiv in February. An original member of the legendary Motown group The Supremes, Mary Wilson’s life and music during the 1960s were connected to the struggle for civil rights led by Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister who led the struggle for equal rights for African Americans until his assassination in 1968. He espoused the principle of nonviolent resistance to injustice and oppression, in keeping with his Christian beliefs. He led the March on Washington in 1963, when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. During the speech he spoke perhaps his best-known words: “I have a dream that my four little 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.” Continue reading “Prelude to Black History Month, Part One: Martin Luther King, Jr.”