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Black History Month - Great Figures of American History: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black History Month - Great Figures of American History: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Black History Month Celebration

Each day this week we will be highlighting the life and work of a great Black American who has had a major influence on our nation's history. For each person we highlight, we will be providing a brief biography, a few quotes, and suggestions for further learning. (See all great figures.) 

Yesterday, we highlighted the great work of Thomas Sowell.  Today, we would like to highlight the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, King devoted himself to campaigning for racial justice. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he led demonstrations, rallied supporters, persuaded opponents, and spoke to the hearts and minds of all Americans.  In 1963, King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”

King and the Civil Rights Movement were instrumental in securing passage of two landmark laws – the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  King also became a vocal and powerful critic of the Vietnam War.  Though many civil rights leaders and liberal politicians urged King to remain focused on the fight for civil rights, King declared that “my conscience leaves me no other choice.”

Growing up in the Jim Crow South, King knew that there was much ignorance and hatred in the country, but he firmly believed that the best way to banish ignorance and hatred was through non-violent resistance and love of one’s “enemy.”  The following two quotes illustrate King’s commitment to use love and empathy to fight for what is right and his belief that, even during dark times, progress is possible:  

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that." 

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

For further information on King, you might like to read The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  You might also enjoy the documentary King in the Wilderness which explores the changes King underwent during his final years.