After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, things started to change. There was an energy and a movement among African Americans, especially young adults. They gathered together to protest the Jim Crow laws that kept blacks and whites segregated. First, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina sat at an all-white lunch counter at Woolworth’s café. Then others started going to white movie theaters, libraries, churches, and pools, or riding on white buses. Martin Luther King was one of the most important leaders of this movement. He urged African Americans to protest peacefully, believing that only love, persistence, and nonviolence could create lasting change.
- Martin Luther King Jr. marched through the South talking to anyone who would listen. He was always calm, but passionate. He believed that the Founding Fathers meant for everyone in America to be treated with respect and equality, regardless of the color of their skin.
- In 1963, he went to Birmingham, Alabama, a very dangerous place for people of color at that time.
- He joined hundreds of people, including over 600 children and teens, to march through Kelly Ingram Park. The policemen sicced their dogs on the people and then turned fire hoses on them. The water was so strong, it knocked the children down and ripped their clothes off. People watching this event on the news were horrified and sickened by what they saw.
- Then Dr. King went to Washington D.C. to give a speech on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. Thousands of people came to hear him and other leaders talk. He said, “I have a dream 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’s famous speech is still remembered and quoted today.
- Soon after, President John F. Kennedy promised to send a civil rights bill to Congress guaranteeing equal rights to all Americans. He was never able to keep that promise because a few months later, he was shot and killed in Texas.
- President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, eliminating Jim Crow laws once and for all. The next year, he signed a bill allowing African Americans to vote.
- Getting fair laws in place was one thing, but changing people’s hearts was something else altogether. African Americans continued to face discrimination but they kept on working.
- During his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested at least 20 times and assaulted four times. His family received many death threats. He won numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize.
- He was assassinated in 1968 as he stood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
Questions and Answers
Question: Did Martin Luther King Jr. have a job and a family?
Answer: Yes, King was a pastor like his father and grandfather. He was married to Coretta Scott and they had four children.
Watch a video about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.