Note – The Apopka MLK Parade begins on Monday at 2PM. It starts at the Apopka Community Center/VFW Building at 519 South Central Avenue and ends at the John Bridges Center at 445 West 13th Street.

Martin Luther King Jr. never saw the age of 40, but he lived a life that touched many and inspired a nation. His legacy will live eternally.

At 33, he was pressing the case of civil rights with President John Kennedy. At 34, he galvanized the nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech. At 35, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. (Photo by Julian Wasser//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. (Photo by Julian Wasser//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images).

At 39, he was assassinated, but he left a legacy of hope that continues today.

Any number of historic moments in the civil rights struggle have been used to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. — prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.

King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher. (He was renamed “Martin” when he was about 6 years old.)

A national hero and a civil-rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was elected its president, and he soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.

Three years later, King’s nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of blacks to the nation at large, with enormous impact. King was arrested, but his voice was not silenced: He wrote the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to refute his critics.martin_king_wisdom_1

Later that year King was a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career. Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. When he returned from Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing.

In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry blacks cared little for his preaching and even less for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their disenchantment was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam.

Although he was trying to create a new coalition based on equal support for peace and civil rights, it caused an immediate rift. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King’s shift of emphasis as “a serious tactical mistake.” The Urban League warned that the “limited resources” of the civil rights movement would be spread too thin.

But he never got back to his poverty plans. Death came for King on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street in Memphis. While standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, King was shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country.

However, King’s legacy has lived on.

In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His birthday, January 15th, is a national holiday, celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts throughout the United States. The Lorraine Hotel where he was shot is now the National Civil Rights Museum.

Note: Multiple publications contributed to this report.

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