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Only four people in American history have had national holidays dedicated to them. One of them is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The others are Washington, Lincoln and Columbus.) King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. He lived with his parents and his brother and sister in a middle-class neighborhood. The church was the center of young Martin’s life. He loved the hymns. He was always sensitive to the feelings of others and especially to the problems of racism surrounding him. He was a good student, entering Morehouse College when he was just 15! Martin was quite popular there and people always wanted to be around him. He became a great public speaker and decided to pursue a career in the church in order to help motivate blacks to work for civil rights.

Martin studied the non-violent practices of Mahatma Gandhi who was working to secure civil rights for his people in India. Martin wondered whether those same actions would work for blacks in America. Acts like protests, strikes, marches and boycotts seemed to Martin to be good ideas. He earned his divinity degree and then enrolled at Boston University to earn a Ph.D. He met and married Coretta Scott in 1953 and they moved to Alabama where King became a pastor. After returning to live in the South, King was shocked to see the racism still there. After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, King felt this was the opportunity to try a form of non-violent protest. He organized a boycott of the buses. Black people refused to ride the buses because they were segregated. This protest resulted in a new Supreme Court ruling and Alabama’s segregated buses became illegal. Meanwhile King’s actions made him a famous person across the United States. He went on to organize more boycotts and protests, sit ins and marches. He spoke all over the world and organized a march on Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. More than two hundred thousand people were there listening as King talked about his dream.

In December 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. He also began speaking out against the Vietnam War and he continued to lead marches. He wrote several books. He traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support a strike of sanitation workers. (They are the people who pick up the trash.) While in Memphis, King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with his friends Jesse Jackson and Ben Branch. Suddenly, a shot rang out, striking and killing King. James Earl Ray, a white man, was convicted of the murder. The world had lost a great leader but King left a wonderful legacy.

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