History of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bill Petro
4 min readJan 14, 2022

Born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate a holiday in honor of a man who was not a president, an explorer, or a saint. Instead, he was a Baptist minister and an American leader of the 1960s civil rights movement named for the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther after his father was inspired to change their name following a trip to Luther’s Wittenberg.

Though President Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1977, it was not until 1986 that a day was established on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federal holiday.

The only other American federal holidays that honored individuals were for Jesus, President Washington, and Christopher Columbus.

Martin Luther King Jr as Pastor

Though King had an earned doctorate, he was also an ordained minister, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers. From his biblical roots came many of the metaphors of his talks, the text of his presentations, and the cadence of his speech. He served as a minister starting in 1954 in Alabama, where afterward, he led the boycott against segregation on buses that lasted 382 days. He was arrested, his house was bombed, and he suffered personal abuse during this time.

Martin Luther King Jr as Activist

His involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement gave him his greatest visibility, as he began in 1957 non-violent civil disobedience, not unlike Gandhi‘s in India. Marches and protests were an effective means of accomplishing many of his goals.

This culminated in 1963 with the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” and his most famous speech, entitled “I Have A Dream,” which he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC.

The following year, in 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest recipient. Though initially successful in the South, King also brought his movement to the North, specifically Chicago, in 1966, out of which grew equal opportunity programs.

Martin Luther King Jr as Speaker

In 1967 King delivered a comprehensive statement against the Vietnam War in his speech in New York City’s Riverside Church entitled…

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Bill Petro

Writer, historian, technologist. Former Silicon Valley tech exec. Author of fascinating articles on history, tech, pop culture, & travel. https://billpetro.com