This year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on Jan. 16. MLK Day is a federal holiday -- no school and a paid day off for many people -- but it's so much more. Learn a bit about the history behind Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the incredible work King did leading the fight for civil rights for African Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a pastor and civil rights leader. MLK Jr. entered college when he was just 15 years old. He married Coretta Scott when he was 24. By the time he was 26, MLK had earned a doctorate in theology and was an ordained pastor. Dr. and Mrs. King had four children.
King worked tirelessly to further civil rights. His contributions were too many to list, but notably, he organized the protest following Rosa Park's arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. King became nationally known for his leadership of this protest and in the larger civil rights movement. He led many other peaceful protests over the years to gain civil rights for African-Americans. Several of King's protests resulted in his arrest. King's commitment to the Black civil rights movement was overwhelming.
On Aug. 28, 1963, King led the March on Washington and delivered his famous speech, "I have a dream." The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His life came to a tragic end on April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white segregationist.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center writes, "During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership of the modern American civil rights movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality than the previous 350 years had produced."
In 1983, federal legislation was signed, making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. It was first celebrated in 1986. Eight years later, in 1994, Congress designated it a National Day of Service, making the third Monday of every January "a day on, not a day off."
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, MLK Jr. Day "calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a 'Beloved Community.' "
To honor Dr. King's legacy and contribution to our country, you can take the opportunity to serve your community on Jan. 16, 2012. If you're not sure how to do that, go to the Find a Project page on the MLK Day website and enter your zip code. You'll find a list of activities in your area that you can be a part of to serve on MLK Day.
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