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Honoring the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Mural of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. by artist Jack Pabis.

On this day of reflection and service, we pause to honor the life of Civil Rights leader the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

A Baptist minister who hailed from Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King's legacy took roots in an early childhood incidence of racism. When his playmate was sent to an all-white school and Martin to a school for Black children, the boys' friendship was ended by the white boy's parents. He then heard the phrase that would haunt him: "We are white, you are colored."

It wasn't until 1944 as a high school junior that King began to publicly speak out on the inequality he observed in race relations. That same year, he was accepted into Morehouse College at age 15. A trip to the integrated North opened his eyes to the possibilities of peaceful coexistence amongst people of all races and he began to consider how the world could - and should - change.

Though he struggled with religion at times, King entered the ministry to satisfy "an inner urge to serve humanity." At age 19, freshly graduated from Morehouse, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. After graduation with his baccalaureate of divinity degree, he began to study for his doctorate degree in systematic theology at Boston University while also auditing philosophy classes at Harvard University. At age 25, Reverend Dr. King became the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

The following years forged the Civil Rights Movement in America, largely due to his leadership. Outspoken and influential, King's passion grew to live in a world in which all races would interact in harmony, deliver justice with equalty, and share compassion.

Today, as we honor the man who fought so hard to right the wrongs in our world, we reflect on his oft-quoted words delivered in his I Have a Dream speech in 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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 slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

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.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

Just one year after he delivered this historic speech, King would become the youngest man in history to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his work on combatting racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. The great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life was cut short when he was fatally shot in Montgomery, Alabama on April 4, 1968. To learn more about his life and legacy, please visit The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia.

Share with your Students:The King Library and Archives in Atlanta is the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world. The collection consists of the papers of Dr. King and those of the organization he co-founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the records of 8 major civil rights organizations and of several individuals active in the Movement. The archives also include more than 200 oral history interviews with Dr. King’s teachers, friends, family, and civil rights associates.

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