Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and we would like to honor and remember the man who was a great spiritual leader, activist, humanitarian, and who championed the value of every person regardless of their background. He played a pivotal role in the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 60's. King was born Michael King in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. His father had the young boy's name changed to Martin Luther as an homage to the German religious reformer. Although as a youth he was an independent thinker who often challenged the traditions of the Christian Church, indeed King found that the Bible contained important wisdom and decided to enter the seminary.

As an activist King was inspired by the tenets of his Christian faith, as well as the ideas of the American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau's idea of 'civil disobedience,' where one resists without violence a government which one believes is unjust, would dramatically influence King as well as another important activist, Mohandas Gandhi. Fed up with the prevailing racism, discrimination and police brutality of the American south, many African Americans turned to the non-violent resistance King taught as an alternative to violence. This took the form of sit-ins at lunch counters which refused to serve black patrons and continued with the boycott of a bus line in Montgomery after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in 1955.

In places like Birmingham and Albany, Martin Luther King continued to organize displays of civil disobedience, resulting in mass arrests of activists, both black and white. King himself was arrested multiple times, but continued the struggle for desegregation and civil rights, receiving increasing fame and support. In 1963 during a march on Washington, D.C., King gave his immensely famous and touching "I Have a Dream" speech, which remains one of the most eloquent appeals for racial equality. Through his vehement opposition to the Vietnam War and challenging of the status quo, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not without enemies, and on April 4, 1968 he was murdered by a gunman in Memphis, Tennessee. Although his life was cut tragically short, King's inspiring words and actions live on, and he remains one of the most important and poetic voices not just for racial equality under the law, but truly for all human dignity and respect.

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