On January 17 America will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But who is Martin Luther King, Jr. and why are we celebrating him?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader in the Civil Rights movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. He did not believe in violence, so used peaceful, nonviolent protests to help gain equal rights for all people, particularly black people.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929.

As a boy living in Georgia, Dr. King was often treated unfairly by white people. There were even laws in the southern United States that stopped black people from doing many of the things white people could do. For example, black people were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as white people, or use the same restrooms, or ride in the front part of buses, or eat at the same restaurants.

Martin became aware of these problems when he was five years old. He was good friends with a white boy his own age. When it came time to start school, his friend went a school for white children only. The boys’ parents told Martin that he could not be friends with their son, because “we are white, and you are colored.”

When Martin asked his parents about this, he was shocked to learn about America’s history of slavery and racism. Martin decided to hate all white people, but his father taught him that he should love everyone, no matter what color they were.

In 1948, at age 19, he graduated college, but continued his education, eventually earning a doctorate degree. That is why he is called Dr. (doctor) Martin Luther King.

In 1953, Martin married Coretta Scott, and they had four children.

Civil Rights.

In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white woman and go sit in the back of the bus in the “colored section.” Ms. Parks was arrested for violating Alabama’s segregation law.

Martin Luther King got involved and help organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which encouraged blacks to stop riding the buses there. The boycott lasted over a year and in the end led to the legal decision that bus segregation was unconstitutional and would no longer be allowed.

The Bus Boycott was just one of many peaceful protests Dr. King organized over a 13-year period.

I Have a Dream

In 1963, Dr. King spoke to more than 250,000 people in Washington D.C. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King gave a speech called “I Have a Dream.” It is one of the most famous speeches in history.


On April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed – assassinated –  by a man named James Earl Ray.

The third Monday in January, which falls near his birthday, is a national holiday called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Fun Facts

• There is confusion about whether Martin Luther King’s first name at birth was Michael or Martin. His father’s name was Martin, but he was sometimes called Mike or Michael. On Dr. King’s birth certificate, it was supposed to say Martin – like his father – but the doctor wrote Michael by mistake, and it wasn’t noticed until later.

•  When King was 15, he passed an examination that allowed him to skip his last two years of high school and enroll in college.

•  Martin and Coretta named their four children Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice.

•  In 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for working to achieve equality through nonviolent efforts.

•  Today, Martin Luther King is sometime called MLK.


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