American Icon: Martin Luther King Jr

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History is made up of great men and women who stood up in the face of oppression and opposition to make the world a better place. One of the greatest people to ever walk the surface of the earth is one Martin Luther King Jr. The mention of his name is sure to bring a series of mixed reactions amongst his supporters and critics. Regardless, Luther King Jr. remains one of the most influential men of the 20th century. His legacy has lived into the 21st century and has shaped the present realities of the American nation. On the third Monday of January, the United States celebrates the Martin Luther King Day, a day that marks King’s birthday (the 15th) and is set aside to remember Martin Luther King Jr. for his role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.


Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of Martin Luther King Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher. King came from a comfortable middle-class family steeped in the tradition of the Southern black ministry: both his father and maternal grandfather were Baptist preachers. His parents were college-educated, and King’s father had succeeded his father-in-law as pastor of the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The family lived on Auburn Avenue, otherwise known as “Sweet Auburn,” the bustling “black Wall Street,” home to some of the country’s largest and most prosperous black businesses and black churches in the years before the civil rights movement.

Young Martin received a solid education and grew up in a loving extended family. Martin Sr. was more the disciplinarian, while his wife's gentleness easily balanced out the father's more strict hand. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.  He watched as his father openly rebelled against racial discriminatory laws; once walking out of a storehouse because African Americans had to be served from the back and in a different scenario refusing to listen to a traffic policeman who called him ‘boy’. Though they undoubtedly tried, Martin Jr.’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism.


King’s secure upbringing did not prevent him from experiencing the prejudices then common in the South. He never forgot the time when, at about age six, one of his white playmates announced that his parents would no longer allow him to play with King, because the children were now attending segregated schools.

 King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. In his adolescent years, he initially felt resentment against whites due to the "racial humiliation" that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South. Dearest to King in these early years was his maternal grandmother, whose death in 1941 left him shaken and unstable. Upset because he had learned of her fatal heart attack while attending a parade without his parents’ permission, the 12-year-old King attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window.


As King grew into a mature adult he witnessed as the African American community plunged into the depths of poverty and illiteracy, a result of the imbalanced and discriminatory state of affairs in the country. He rose to become a public figure after he led a successful demonstration termed ‘the Montgomery bus boycott’ which lasted 385 days. Sparked by the racial discrimination in the Montgomery buses, King led the African American community through this national demonstration which resulted in the bombing of his house as well as the end of the racial segregation in the Montgomery public buses.


The present realities of the American nation have been shaped by specific historical figures. Despite the opposition, criticisms and humiliation that King was subjected to, he stood for what he believed was right before God and man. His fight for equality eventually paid off in the redefining of civil rights for the African American community. Even though he lost his life before he could see the fruits of his vehement fight against racial discrimination, his legacy is imprinted in the current realities of the African American population. For his stand for what is right regardless of the odds that stood against him, American Sunglasses would like to call Martin Luther King Jr. and icon. Because he is!

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