Students are taught about Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. He envisioned a world where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. In a tumultuous time, Martin Luther King Jr. led a civil rights movement that focused on nonviolent protest.
No matter how many times he was attacked in public, or how often his home was bombed, King was firm on nonviolence as a means to an end. So, how did Martin Luther King's vision change the world? He changed the lives of all African Americans in his time and subsequent decades.
King believed all men are created equal and should enjoy the same rights and privileges. One of his most poignant lines from his famous "I Have a Dream" speech was that he hoped his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
His goal was to turn people's minds so they'd come to the same understanding. As such, he staged nonviolent strikes, protests, and speeches. He fiercely ingrained the notion of nonviolent protests into his followers' hearts and minds. After his home was bombed in 1956, what did he do? He and his members fervently prayed for their oppressors in church pews.
Martin Luther King was a heavy hitter in several of the civil rights movements of the 1950s and '60s. His nonviolent tone was precisely what was needed for the United States government to take heed. Here are a few of the notable boycotts, strikes, and speeches King is famed for:
In 1955, King became one of the leaders for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For 381 days, King and his followers boycotted the bus system that allowed segregation on public buses. They walked unimaginable lengths to work and other outings, but nonviolently made their point that segregation on buses was not only discriminatory, but unlawful.
In 1957, King established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. To this day, it aims to advance the cause of the civil rights movement in a nonviolent manner.
In 1963, King's famous "I Have a Dream Speech" was delivered to over 200,000 people, more than any other rally in Washington D.C.'s history at that point. People took heed to his message, laced with truths from the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. It not only marked him as a master orator and a brilliant wordsmith, but also put pressure on President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration to push for civil rights laws to pass through Congress.
In 1968, King traveled to Memphis to advocate for the Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike. Black workers were being forced to work under unthinkable - not to mention unsafe - conditions while receiving a lower wage than their white counterparts. After much trial and tribulation, the workers did receive a fairer wage, but it also came with King's brutal assassination.
It's because of Martin Luther King and the efforts of his supporters that America came to understand the power of nonviolent protest. When his nonviolent efforts were met with violence, it actually garnered empathy and support for his cause. The public was swayed to such a magnitude that major acts of Congressional power were set in motion.
King was largely responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in the workforce and public accommodations based on "race, color, religion, or national origin."
The Voting Rights Act protects African Americans' right to vote. He also played a major part in the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This prevents people from banning black people from any sort of housing, be it a rental or a sale.
Even until the day he died, King never allowed fear to triumph. He unified people together under a common goal. Today, you won't find black people and white people forced to sit in separate sections on a bus or drink from separate water fountains in a public space. Although prejudice remains, the tide is shifting in a way where the racists of the world are scorned, and not innocent African Americans.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on his balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. It was there that he was shot in the jaw by a sniper bullet which traveled to his spine, severing it, and killing him.
King was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers' strike. Ironically, the night before, he told the workers, "We've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end." A man named James Earl Ray was captured and convicted for King's murder. Ray pleaded guilty to avoid the electric chair; he was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Shortly after his confession, however, Ray stated he was part of a wider government conspiracy to stop King. To this day, those allegations have yet to be proven. Interestingly, King's widow and children agree with the murderer. They believe it was the U.S. government who took King out. Was this one man really powerful enough to incite the rage and retaliation of the U.S. government?
Segregation in America has been abolished in an official manner, although we still see discrimination in other ways. Certain inner cities continue to struggle with violence and a need for equal pay and equal opportunity. If King were alive, he'd be rallying in every city that faced inequality and injustice.
At the same time, in 2008, America elected its first African American president to office. President Barack Obama is a man born of a white, American woman and a Kenyan father. That's something King would be very proud of. His name is still spoken with pride and his legacy of nonviolence has proven that the race war can be settled through nonviolent protest and a common endeavor for an anti-antagonistic world.