Martin Luther King Jr.’s work was cut brutally short when he was assassinated aged 39 but his legacy lives on with an annual day dedicated to his memory and work. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and how is MLK day marked?
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a US federal holiday marking the birthday of the Baptist minister. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January every year.
This year has special significance because it marks the 50th anniversary of the civil rights hero’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4 1968.
In Washington today, there will be a day of events at The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian.
The national holiday sees free parades and activities taking place throughout the country, while many businesses and institutions will be closing.
Almost all of the USA’s 500 national parks will open for free in honour of the federal holiday, which is only one of four times a year when fees are waived.
Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?
Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, in the American South.
The middle child of African-American parents, King followed his father Reverend Martin Luther King Sr into the church as a minister before becoming a civil rights activist.
In fact his Christian beliefs forged his idea that the advancement of civil rights should be won via non-violent means.
A young campaigner, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
He took a stand against segregation after African-American woman Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white person.
After campaigning continued for a year, the US Supreme Court ruled on December 20, 1956 that Alabama and Montgomery segregated buses were unconstitutional.
King continued to organise other non-violent protests and protest against segregation between black and white people in the USA.
He organised the 1963 March on Washington – advocating civil and economic rights for African Americans – and delivered his now-famous historic speech “I Have A Dream”.
He became the youngest man ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize aged 35 in 1964 for advocating non-violent protest.
King continued to promote race equality and expanded his focus to include opposition to poverty and the Vietnam War – causing uproar amongst some liberals.
On April 4, 1968, King was planning a new campaign when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ray killed King with a single shot from a Remington rifle as King spoke to crowds from the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
The killer fled the scene and escaped to England but was arrested two months later trying to leave London Heathrow on a false Canadian passport.
After confessing to the crime and pleading guilty, Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
King’s death sparked riots in cities across the United States and mourning among millions.
He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.