Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, GA, on January 15, 1929. As the son of a Baptist minister, he was a gifted student who entered college at 15 years old. King earned a B.A. degree in sociology from Morehouse College in 1948. By 1954, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, and then received his doctorate in theology in 1955. As an outspoken activist for his race, King led and participated in many marches for civil rights. In 1955, King helped organize the first major protest of the African American civil rights movement, known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Baptist minister, who became the most visible civil rights leader, motivated by Mahatma Gandhi, advocated for nonviolent protests against segregation in the South. His eloquent speeches and resistance to violence helped his movement gain momentum, winning support from the federal government and Northern whites.

In August 1963, 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for The March on Washington, where King made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Over an eleven-year period from 1957-1968, King traveled millions of miles, spoke out against injustice twenty-five hundred times, and wrote five books as well as numerous articles. King was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963.

In 1964, at the age of 35, the civil rights leader was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for leading a nonviolent resistance against racial inequality. King announced that he would turn over his prize money, totaling $54,123, to further the civil rights movement.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis, TN, to lead a protest march for striking garbage workers when he was assassinated on the balcony of his hotel room.

President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 to create a federal holiday to honor King on the third Monday in January every year. George Washington was the only other American to have his birthday observed as a national holiday.

In August of 2011, after over two decades of planning, fundraising, and construction, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated. It is located in West Potomac Park at 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W. The address references the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. The memorial’s design draws inspiration from one of King’s most memorable quotes from his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Washington, D.C., has several memorials dedicated to African Americans. However, Martin Luther King Jr. is the first African American to receive a memorial on or near the National Mall. Moreover, he is only the fourth non-president to be honored in this manner. 


Updated on 1/4/24