Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s family was living in Montgomery when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. In response to her arrest, Black Americans in Montgomery decided to get together and organize a boycott of the city’s buses on December 5, 1955, the day of her trial. (A boycott is when people refuse to participate in or buy something because they disagree with a policy that the company or entity promotes.) Forty thousand Black bus riders refused to take the bus that day. Because most of the buses’ usual passengers were Black, this was a big hit to the city.

To keep the boycott going until Blacks were given better treatment on buses, Black leaders established the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected 26-year-old-pastor Martin Luther King Jr. as the president and spokesperson. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first large-scale demonstration against segregation and lasted 381 days. Finally, on December 21, 1956, Montgomery’s buses were integrated. This was a great victory for the civil rights movement but the work was far from over.

King worked with other leaders and activists to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It took place on August 28, 1963 and was a peaceful rally that called attention to the injustices targeting Black Americans. Speaking to more than 200,000 demonstrators, King delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech while standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

King talked about how all people, regardless of what they looked like, were created equal and that it was what was inside of their hearts that was most important. King declared, “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.”

Key Point

The March on Washington was so impactful, and King’s words so inspiring, that the United States passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination.