Martin Luther King, Jr.
|Today, the March on Washington is mostly remembered as the event where Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired millions with his “I Have a Dream” speech, describing an America that would someday, perhaps in his children’s lifetimes, move beyond centuries of racial intolerance.
By 1963, King already was well-respected as one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. In 1955, he took a lead role organizing the 382-day-long Montgomery bus boycott, rallying the Alabama city’s African-American community with a speech in which he declared, “if we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.” He was threatened and his house was bombed, but the boycott succeeded; King emerged as the face of the civil rights movement, preaching a philosophy of nonviolence and love for one’s enemies inspired by his faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1957, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From then until his assassination in 1968, King traveled over six million miles, gave over 2,500 speeches and advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights issues. He was arrested more than 20 times, assaulted at least four times and threatened many more. He became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers. During the last years of his life, King spoke more broadly about economic injustice issues for all Americans, culminating in 1968 with the Poor People’s Campaign that continued after his death.