Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. King has become a national icon in the history of American progressivism.
A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. King’s efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history. He also established his reputation as a radical, and became an object of the FBI’s COINTELPRO for the rest of his life.
On October 14 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. In the next few years leading up to his death, he expanded his focus to include poverty and the Vietnam War—alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam”. King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., called the Poor People’s Campaign.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. and beyond have been renamed in his honor.