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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, used nonviolent resistance to overcome racial injustice and end segregation laws, and became the most visible leader of the 20th century civil rights movement.

In 1955, as the young pastor of a Montgomery, Alabama church, King was elected the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and asked to lead a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott began when the civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, and the protest continued via nonviolent means, including car pools and eventually legal action. The 381 day boycott ended about a year later, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate the bus system.

In 1957, King was elected president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which continues to advocate for nonviolent resistance to racial injustices.

In that role, he and the SCLC joined the local movement in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to implement non-violent direct action protesting discriminatory laws. After he was arrested for that work, he wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” directed at local clergy questioning the protests.

Later that year, on August 28, 1963, King participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd of 250,000.

Because of his work, in 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest person ever to receive this high honor.

On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers, he was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of his hotel.