Martin Luther King is famous for leading the American Civil Rights Movement and fighting against discrimination of African Americans in the United States. Here are 10 prominent accomplishments of one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century.
#1 HE LED THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
On December 1, 1955 an African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person and was arrested due to the racial segregation laws. This led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was planned by E.D. Nixon and led by Martin Luther King. The boycott lasted for 385 days. During this time King was arrested, his home was bombed and he was subjected to personal abuse and threats. The protest ended on December 20, 1956 with the US Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
#2 KING WAS THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF SCLC
Inspired by the bus boycott, King, along with other civil rights activists, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 to coordinate their efforts. King was the president of SCLC till his assassination in 1968. The SCLC had a large role in the American Civil Rights Movement.
#3 HE LED THE BIRMINGHAM CAMPAIGN
Till the 1960s Birmingham was one of the most racially divided cities in US. Black citizen’s faced discrimination both legally and culturally. In early 1963 King started a movement against this which is known as the Birmingham Campaign. When the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, it recruited young students and even children. The campaign gained nationwide attention when the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene “Bull” Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police attack dogs on the children. The movement ended with Connor losing his job and the municipal government changing the city’s discriminatory laws.
#4 HE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN ORGANIZING THE GREAT MARCH ON WASHINGTON
King represented SCLC and was one of the leaders of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights organizations who organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march took place in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. It was a resounding success with over 250,000 participants, making it was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in US history. It motivated other marches and laid the stepping stone to the passage of Civil Rights Act (1964).
#5 HIS SPEECH INTENSIFIED THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
During the March on Washington, Martin Luther King delivered the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a gathering of over 250,000 people. In the speech’s most famous passage, King departed from written text at Mahalia Jackson’s cry: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” The speech is considered the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was ranked the top American speech in a 1999 poll of scholars.
#6 KING WAS TIME MAGAZINE’S MAN OF THE YEAR IN 1963
In its January 1964 issue, Time named Martin Luther King, Jr., ”Man of the Year” for 1963 recognizing him as a fearless leader who fought to bring equality in America. He was the first African American recipient of this honor. Martin saw it not as a personal honor but as a tribute to the civil rights movement.
#7 HE WAS BEHIND AFRICAN AMERICANS GETTING BASIC CIVIL RIGHTS
Martin Luther King organized and led many marches for the voting right of blacks, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. His efforts bore fruit when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed and most of these rights were enacted into law.
#8 HE BECAME THE YOUNGEST RECIPIENT OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for leading non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S. At the age of thirty-five, he was the youngest recipient of the award at the time.
#9 HE ACHIEVED SUCCESS USING NON-VIOLENT METHODS OF PROTEST
King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s success with non-violent activism. His trip to India made him understand non-violent resistance better and he was convinced that that was the way forward for achieving civil rights for American blacks. King was hugely successful in achieving his goals through civil disobedience and other such practices. This enhanced the stature of non-violent methods of protest throughout the world.
#10 MARTIN LUTHER KING BECAME THE SYMBOLIC LEADER OF AFRICAN AMERICANS
From 1957 till his assassination, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice. He led many protests and wrote five books and several articles. He was renowned worldwide as the symbolic leader of African Americans.
Early Life and Path to Activism
King came from a middle-class family and had a relatively secure upbringing. His parents were college educated, and his father was a Baptist minister. King encountered his first experience with racism at the age of six, when one of his white playmates told King that his parents would no longer let him play with him because the children were now attending segregated schools. In 1944, at age 15, King entered Morehouse College in Atlanta under a special wartime program intended to boost enrollment by admitting promising high school students. Before he began college, he had spent the summer on a tobacco farm in Connecticut and was shocked by how peacefully the races mixed in the North. This experience deepened his opposition to racial segregation. While at Morehouse King was mentored by the college president, Benjamin Mays, an activist committed to fighting racial inequality. Mays prodded the Black church into social action by criticizing its emphasis on the hereafter instead of the here and now. It was a call to service that was not lost on the teenaged King. He graduated from Morehouse in 1948. He later earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. Ordained a Baptist minister, in 1954 he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. The following year he received a doctorate from Boston University.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger and, as a result, was arrested for violating the city’s segregation laws. Following this incident, a group of civil rights activists decided to contest racial segregation on the city’s public bus system. The activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the public transportation system. King, who had been pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for just over a year, was chosen to lead the group. He led the boycott using a nonviolent approach, even though his home was bombed during this period. For more than a year people protested segregation by refusing to ride the city buses. Finally, late in 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
In 1957 King and other civil rights leaders established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group to help local organizations carry out civil rights activities in the South. As leader of the SCLC, King inspired Blacks throughout the South to hold peaceful sit-ins and voter education clinics and registration drives. The SCLC gave King a platform to speak about race-related issues and to discuss race relations with leaders all over the world. In 1959 he went to India to meet with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and others and to discuss Gandhi’s concepts of peaceful noncompliance. From this trip King became even more convinced that nonviolent resistance was the most effective way to fight against oppression and injustice. In 1963 King’s campaign to end segregation at lunch counters gained national attention in Birmingham, Alabama, when police officers turned dogs and water hoses on demonstrators who had gathered there. King was jailed along with a large number of supporters. From the Birmingham jail he wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he spelled out his philosophy of nonviolence.
March on Washington
Near the end of the Birmingham campaign, King and other civil rights leaders joined together to organize the historic March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, an interracial group of more than 200,000 people gathered peacefully near the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. Prominent civil rights leaders delivered speeches, most memorable being King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech called for equality and freedom and became one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement. It is one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. As King had hoped, the march had a strong effect on national opinion and resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later that year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965 King led a drive to register Black voters in Selma, Alabama. King organized an initial march from Selma to the state capitol building in Montgomery but did not lead it himself. The marchers were violently turned back by state troopers who used nightsticks and tear gas. More than 50 marchers, including civil rights leader John Lewis, were hospitalized. This incident, which took place on Sunday, March 7, became known as “Bloody Sunday.” King led a second march two days later, despite a restraining order by a federal court. Heading a procession of more than 2,000 marchers, Black and white, King set out across Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma until the group came to a barricade of state troopers. But instead of going on and forcing a confrontation, he led his followers to kneel in prayer and then, unexpectedly, turned back. This decision cost King the support of many young radicals who faulted him for being too cautious. The country was nevertheless aroused, resulting in the later passage (in August) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On March 21, after a federal judge had ruled the march to Montgomery could continue, King led marchers out of Selma, over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and on to the state capital. Estimates put the number of demonstrators at the beginning between 3,000 and 8,000. That number grew to about 25,000 during the course of the five-day march. There King addressed the crowd in what became known as his “How Long, Not Long” speech.
Final Years and Legacy
King later shifted his focus to economic justice, speaking out against poverty and war. In 1967, to bring attention to the issue of poverty and its relationship to urban violence, he helped plan a Poor People’s March to Washington. In the spring of 1968, before the march was scheduled to take place, King made a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers. On April 4, while standing on the second floor balcony of the motel where he was staying, King was shot and killed by a sniper. King’s death shocked the country. He was buried in South-View Cemetery in Atlanta. King’s remains were later transferred to a tomb on the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) adjacent to the Ebenezer Baptist Church. His new tomb bears the same epitaph as that of his original gravestone: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I’m free at last.” King’s career greatly advanced the cause of civil rights in the United States. His energetic personality and persuasive oratory helped unite many Blacks in a search for peaceful solutions to racial oppression. In 1977 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his battle against prejudice. In 1983 the U.S. Congress established a national holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in his honor, to be celebrated annually on the third Monday in January. A national memorial opened in Washington, D.C., in 2011.