• Polymath Weekly

Why We Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Observed on the third Monday of January each year, the holiday honors the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an American social activist who dedicated his life to fighting to end racial segregation in the South of US, as well as in the country as a whole. This year, the USA's federal holiday is celebrated on January 17th.


King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech to a large crowd in Washington during the March for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. [Image Credit: Francis Miller/Getty Images ]

What were King's early years like?


On January 15th, 1929, King was born in Atlanta, Georgia into a loving family. They lived on Auburn Avenue, where some of the country's largest and most wealthy Black-owned businesses and churches were based. Raised by college-educated parents, King received a solid education.


Growing up in the Southern state, King faced widespread racial discrimination as early as in elementary school. Later on, while spending the summer of 1944 on a tobacco farm in Connecticut, King was shocked by how peacefully races mixed in the North - the two groups went to the the same church, which was almost unperceived in his native state. King's deepened understanding of racism in the South fueled his anger at the matter even more.


Top 5 King's Achievements, In Chronological Order


1955 (winter): King organizes a boycott of the Montgomery bus system in Alabama in response to Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. The boycott lasted over a year, and became a large-scale anti-discrimination movement, which led to a Supreme Court decision that declared segregated buses illegal. Even though King was arrested for initiating the demonstration, his fight for equality didn't stop there.


1957 (winter): SCLC stands for Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization founded by King to support peaceful protests for equality. Because of the events of the Montgomery bus boycott, the organization was originally focused on ending discrimination on buses, but then its goals grew to ending all forms of segregation.


1963 (spring): The SCLC launches the Birmingham campaign in an attempt to put an end to the city's discriminatory civil and economic practices. After a failed boycott of local businesses to get them to abandon their racist policies, King and the SCLC start 'Project-C.' The plan involved a series of marches and sit-ins; Though the protesters faced violence from the Birmingham police, the plan turned out to be successful since African-American customers were now more welcomed at businesses, restaurants and other public places.


1963 (summer): King, along with civil rights, labour and religious organizations, organizes a march for civil and economic equality for African-Americans. He helped gather over 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Washington Monument, where he delivered his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. The march also played a major role in helping to pass the Civil Rights Act that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, etc.


1964: Though King won many awards throughout his life, receiving Nobel Peace Prize after years of hard work and achievements was undoubtedly the greatest one. The fact that King obtained the award was proof that nonviolence was the best method in accomplishing peace and equality.


Honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by learning more about his work, that is, his contribution to fulfilling his lifelong dream of achieving racial equality.

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