Martin Luther King Jr is a very important figure in the history books of both America and the world owing to his tremendous contributions in the field of civil rights and creation of a racism free society world over. He lived from January 15, 1929 to April 4, 1968. Mr King is widely known for his role in advancing civil rights using the same non-violent means that were used by Mahatma Gandhi to achieve India’s freedom in the year 1947. The only difference was that Mr. King’s non-violent civil disobedience had its basis in Christian beliefs.
He turned to civil rights activism from an early age in his career and took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott (started by Rosa Parks) in the year 1955. Furthermore, Mr King helped in founding the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) in the year 1957 and served as its first president. As a part of his initiatives at SCLC, he led a struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia in the year 1962 and thereafter organized nonviolent protests in Alabama in the year 1963. The protests in Birmingham, Alabama garnered nationwide attention owing to the way in which authorities responded to the event and how it got covered in the media all over. Thereafter, Mr King led the historic March on Washington on August 28, 1963, the same event where he delivered his most memorable “I have a dream” speech. It was during March on Washington that Martin Luther King achieved his stature as one of the best orators that United States and the world had ever seen.
Mr King was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964 because of the way in which he had fought against racial inequalities using non-violent means. He also played a key role in organization of the Selma to Montgomery marches in the year 1965 and he (along with SCLC) took the movement against segregated housing to Chicago in the following year.
During the final years of his life, Martin Luther King had expanded his focus to wider problems and spoke actively against the war in Vietnam and issues related to poverty. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 as he was making plans for leading Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr King’s assassination led to riots in several cities in America.
About March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963
Martin Luther King, as a representative of SCLC, was a part of the leadership group known as ‘Big Six’ by all major civil rights associations in the United States. These organizations played a key role in planning the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom held on August 28, 1963. These big six leaders were:
- Martin Luther King of SCLC,
- James L Farmer Jr from the Congress of Racial Equality,
- Roy Wilkins belonging to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
- A. Philip Randolph of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,
- Whitney Young of National Urban League and
- John Lewis of SNC
The main individual who took charge of the strategic and logistical affairs of this march was a close aide of Martin Luther King known as Bayard Rustin. The Kennedys also came on board regarding the march, stressing the importance of its success. As his personal contribution, John F. Kennedy helped in enlisting the support of UAW union and additional church leaders for the march.
The focus of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was to peacefully present the conditions in which black population was living in the southern part of the United States at that time. It was also meant to serve as an opportunity for the organizers to express their grievances and concerns to the people in power. They were highly keen on denouncing the federal government because of the compromises in physical safety and civil rights of the black people and social activists.
The March on Washington happened successfully and the organizers freely expressed their views demanding an end to the racial segregation happening in public schools at that time. They also demanded a meaningful and constructive civil rights legislation that would include a strict law prohibiting racial treatment and discrimination in the fields of employment, a minimum $2 wage for all the workers, self-governance in Washington DC and protection of people participating in civil right movements from police excesses.
It proved to be a great success with over 250,000 people of distinct ethnicities and backgrounds having attended the historic event. The gathering started from the steps of Lincoln Memorial and sprawled up till the National Mall. If statisticians are to be believed, the March on Washington was easily the biggest ever protest to have ever happened in the history of Washington DC.
It was at this event that Martin Luther King delivered his most historic “I have a dream” speech. What was special about that speech is that Mr King departed from the prepared text when he was prompted by Mahalia Jackson to tell people about his dream. Mr King had said:
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.”
(Quoted verbatim from the Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech)
This speech turned out to be the finest ever in the American history and the one which made civil rights the topmost agenda of the United States’ Congress, leading to the inclusion of the above passage in the Civil Rights Act, 1964.
50 years later, there were several events held at the same venue, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28, 2013.