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On the third Monday of January each year, Americans celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - the civil rights activist who is often credited for singly-handedly spearheading the nation's civil rights movement.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929, Dr. King grew up in an environment where people were not judged by their accomplishments, but by the color of their skin. Blacks and whites led totally disparate lives - They ate at different restaurants, went to different schools and even, sat in separate areas when traveling in buses and trains. Though Dr. King was not happy with the situation, just like the others, he accepted it as a way of life.
It was not until 1944 when Dr. King spent a summer working in the tobacco fields in Simsbury, Connecticut that he realized that such was not the case across the country. In the Northern States, there was no discrimination by color. Everyone did everything, together. Though the seeds that would lead to him becoming America's most influential civil rights leader had been planted, it was not until 1955 that he became really active.
In 1954, Dr. King who was by now an ordained Minister and married, chose to become pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. Here discrimination against African Americans was even more prevalent than in Atlanta. At his new church he encouraged the residents of Montgomery to exercise their civil rights by registering to vote and joining the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
Then on December 1st, 1955 came the event which would really spur the calm civil rights leader to turn into an activist. A fellow activist by the name of Rosa Parks was arrested after she refused to vacate her bus seat for a white passenger. To bring justice to her and other mistreated African Americans, Dr. King asked the residents of Montgomery to boycott all public transport. This was no easy request. The buses were the only mode of transport for many of the residents whose jobs entailed traveling long distances. However, they took up the challenge not for just one day or month, but a full year! And, it was not just Montgomery, but other parts of the nation with similar laws that joined in too! In 1956, the activists won their first battle when the Supreme Court of the United States passed a ruling to abolish the transportation segregation law.
Buoyed by the success, Dr. King spent the next decade traveling around the country encouraging Americans to stand up to segregation in a non-violent peaceful manner by organizing sit-ins, boycotts and protest marches. During this time, he gave many inspiring speeches, the most memorable one of which, was delivered on August 28th, 1963.
The chain of events leading to the civil rights leader's most quoted 'I have a dream' speech began in June 1963 when President John F. Kennedy asked the US Congress to pass a civil rights bill that would give all Americans equal access to public places. To try convince officials to approve it, Dr. King along with other civil rights leaders asked people to come to Washington D.C. and stage a peaceful march to demonstrate their support.
Over 250,000 Americans from all over the country flew, drove, rode buses and even walked, to participate in what the history books now call the March on Washington! Here, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is where Dr. King articulated his dream of living in a country where everyone was treated equally.Unfortunately, Dr. King was assassinated while on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, and did not live long enough to see his dream come true.
Today, 46 years after his death, the life of this great man and his achievements are still celebrated all over the country with parades and community programs. it is thanks to his radical vision that America has evolved into a nation where a person is judged by his/her merits not, color of skin.