Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights icon, needs no introduction as he is the most recognized leader in the fight for racial equality. King, born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, was a Baptist minister, social activist and the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the mid 1950s until his death by assassination in 1968.
His dream, reflected in his most famous speech on this 50th Anniversary, tells of a vision he had for the land of the free: “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 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.”
Through his activism, he played one of the most influential roles in ending the legal segregation of African American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation. Among his historical achievements King is credited with the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year.
In 1965, King led peaceful demonstrators across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. only to be assaulted by police officers using tear gas, whips and clubs against them. This march is considered to be directly responsible for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only five months later.
Although King was assassinated the Civil Rights Movement continued. Only a week after King’s death, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968—an act that made it easier for African- Americans to find adequate housing.
Over the next decades, African-Americans continued to gain rights as laws against discrimination became stricter, including Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke which upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action.
In 2008 Senator Barack Obama became the first African American to be a major party nominee and went on to become the nation’s first African-American president. On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have Dream” speech, his dream is realized as we inaugurate the 2nd term of President Obama.