Every year, the United States pauses to remember one the country's greatest heroes: the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The federal holiday, which this year falls on Monday, January 18, commemorates the birthday of the iconic civil rights activist, who is known around the world for his unparalleled passion for equality and peace. Although he was just 39 years old at the time of his assassination, Dr. King impacted our nation in a way that changed it forever.
Born to a Christian couple in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 1900's, Dr. King was named after the famed Christian reformer, Martin Luther, and was regularly exposed to non-violent political activism based on Biblical principles. Thus, from a young age, Dr. King's parents instilled in him a deep desire for racial and economic desegregation.
During the 1960's, Dr. King emerged as a key figure in the civil rights movement, seeking to combat racial inequality, poverty, violence, and war.
He is credited for his role in many pivotal moments such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
His famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered in 1963, established his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential orators in American history. Because contributions to the civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Another particularly important text addressing racial inequality, the role of the Church and moral responsibility is Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which he penned after being imprisoned for leading coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation.
Although assassinated in April of 1968, the legacy of Dr. King continues to live on. In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday and was first celebrated three years later on the third Monday in January.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated across the United States in a number of ways: Most public schools close on this day to honor Dr. King's memory, while a number of business establishments give their employees the day off. Additionally, many National Parks that usually charge a fee are open to the public free of charge.
Some cities around the U.S. hold parades, poetry readings, musical performances, discussions, and a live reading of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" address.To commemorate Dr. King's dedication to caring for the poor and needy, many people will volunteer at local shelters and food banks on this holiday.
Notable Quotes on Faith and Justice
"I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
"The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?"
"It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart."
"The end of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may."
"When I took up the cross I recognized its meaning. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately, that you die on."
"The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being as well."
"The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."