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Remembering Dr. King

Nation looks back at great leader

By Ezra Billinkoff | null null , null

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. standing in front of crowd in Washington, D.C.
American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd at the March on Washington, in Washington, D.C, in August 1963. (Photo: CNP/Getty Images/NewsCom)

December 12, 2007

Throughout this weekend and all next week, Americans will take time to honor the legacy of one man: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The leader of the civil rights movement is honored every year on the third Monday in January, which this year happens to also be his birthday. He would have been 78 years old.

Dr. King fought for equal rights for Americans, especially African-Americans, during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. His work began when he was a young Baptist minister in a church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. News about the brilliant 25-year-old preacher traveled quickly, and soon the church was energized.

In December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Parks’ arrest sparked an outcry from Montgomery’s African-American community and King led them in protest.

African-Americans in Montgomery refused to use public buses for more than a year in what became known as the Montgomery bus boycott. Under Dr. King’s leadership, they walked, biked, or shared cars to get to work—even in the face of unpleasant weather conditions and harassment from whites. By December 1956, the city of Montgomery finally wrote new rules, allowing African-Americans to sit where they wanted on the buses.

The Montgomery bus boycott was one of many victories for Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

The “Dream”

After the triumph in Montgomery, Dr. King became a national leader in the civil rights movement. He led marches and rallies throughout the nation, always protesting against discrimination and unfair laws. In the summer of 1963, Dr. King spoke at a massive rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He spoke of his dream to see harmony between the different races in America, in what became one of the most famous speeches in American history.

“I have a dream,” Dr. King said in that speech, “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.”

Dr. King believed very strongly in nonviolent protest. He studied the teachings of human rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi, and he knew that peaceful protests and marches could be successful. King also believed that big changes in a society take time.

Around the Nation

Every year, the United States observes a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. It is one of only four holidays that commemorate individual people and the only one that commemorates an African-American. Ronald Reagan established the law in 1983 after pressure from the U.S. Congress.

While the holiday is technically a day off from work (for most) and school, many Americans like to think of it as a day on where they can help continue the “dream” by participating in community service activities. Here are some of the programs happening around the country over the weekend and throughout next week:

  • In Birmingham, Alabama, more than 300 volunteers will paint a mural depicting the struggle for civil rights at Parker High School.
  • In Buffalo, New York, students and residents will design mini-murals for seats on the cities’ public buses as a way of remembering both Dr. King and Rosa Parks.
  • Residents in Phoenix, Arizona, will pitch in to improve some neighborhoods and fix up some of their local schools.
  • In Washington, D.C., where Dr. King spoke his most famous words, more than 6,000 volunteers will pitch in at cleanup projects throughout the city.

Wherever you are on Martin Luther King Day, you can take a moment to remember the work of Dr. King and to help keep his dream alive.


The Legacy of a Leader

During the last days of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, photographer Benedict Fernandez snapped some of the most illuminating images of the man and his turbulent times. View a slideshow of Fernandez’s photographs.


Critical Thinking Question

Read today's news story, and then answer the following question.

Remembering Dr. King

What does Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy mean to you?

Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board.


About the Author

Ezra Billinkoff is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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