By Angela Padrón

One of the most famous figures in American history is Martin Luther King, Jr. A civil rights leader and activist, he helped to change the perception of African Americans in the United States and he fought hard against inequality, segregation, and racism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1955, he served as a spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which pushed to ensure that bus routes were integrated. Even though King was arrested, he kept fighting for equal rights. After African Americans were assaulted by police, sprayed with water hoses, and attacked by police dogs, there was national outrage. The boycott continued for over a year until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the March on Washington, also known as the March for Jobs and Freedom. Over 250,000 people attended the march. This is where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” In 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which eliminated legal racial segregation in the U.S. and prevented discrimination in the workplace, and in transportation, schools, and other public venues. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated obstacles faced by African Americans at the voting booths due to their race. Between 1965 and 1968, King focused on economic inequalities and international peace. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts helped to make possible many domestic and international changes to fairness and equality.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 by James Earl Ray. We celebrate his birthday each year in January to honor his work and legacy. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday and a memorial on the Great Mall in Washington, D.C. Many streets, statues, parks, churches, and other public places are named after him. During his time as an advocate for civil rights, more progress was made toward racial equality than in all of the previous years of America’s history combined. King’s way of using nonviolence to achieve legal equality for African Americans in the United States made him one of the most iconic figures in American civil rights history.

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