On Jan. 17, the United States marked the birthday of one of its most famous civil rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A civil right refers to the freedom of individuals to participate in their day-to-day lives without interference from the government, or without being treated differently because of his or her race or religion.
This day is particularly significant this year as the U.S bids farewell to its first African-American President, and inaugurates President-elect Donald Trump, at a time when the nation is deeply divided.
A Peaceful Fight for Equality
The Civil Rights Movement in America took place from 1955 to 1968 with the goal of ending discrimination against African Americans, and ensuring that they have the same rights as whites. To give you an idea, prior to 1968, African Americans could not vote, attend the same schools, or use the same public facilities like hospitals, restaurants and banks as whites.
Dr. King was a reverend (church minister) in Atlanta, Georgia who became a powerful champion for achieving civil rights through peaceful means. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence during his efforts to end the British occupation of India. King received his doctorate degree in theology or study of religion, and was therefore called Dr. King.
Dr. King’s became an active civil rights leader after he led the famous bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. People stopped using the city’s public transport system to protest the practice of segregating African Americans and whites on buses and trains. The boycott received nationwide attention and ultimately led to the United States Supreme Court declaring that Alabama’s segregation practices were unconstitutional.
Free At Last
Perhaps Dr. King’s most significant accomplishment was leading the historic “March on Washington” in 1963. Nearly 300,000 people from all over the United States gathered at the nation’s capital to demand equality in jobs and freedom for African Americans and women. There, Dr. King gave his memorable "I Have a Dream" speech, where he said, “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”.
The powerful public reaction to King's speech helped bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it illegal across America to discriminate against and treat people differently because of their race or gender. Soon after the march, Dr. King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent civil rights work. His life was cut short at the age of 39 when he was assassinated in 1968 by a person who opposed his beliefs of racial equality.
While much progress has been made, racial tensions and violence continue in many inner cities. The 2016 elections have shown us once again that the struggle for equality is far from over. In these time, we turn again to Dr King's words "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."