Americans are celebrating the life of African-American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday today (1/15) with ceremonies and tributes across the nation. King, a clergyman who was an eloquent speaker, was a leader among activists who began campaigning during the 1950s for an end to racial discrimination. They staged protests, sit-ins and marches to emphasize their demand for equal rights for all Americans. The U.S. Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, but four years later an assassin's bullet killed Martin Luther King Jr. Jim Bertel narrates.
"I have a dream...."
Martin Luther King Jr. immortalized those words with his speech during the March on Washington in August of 1963. Hundreds of thousands of people were in the audience when King spoke at what was then the largest public demonstration ever seen in the United States. King organized many nonviolent protests, demanding an end to segregation and racial discrimination -- part of the civil-rights campaign in this country that led to the passage of laws guaranteeing equal treatment for African-Americans and other minority groups.
King was shot and killed in 1968, less than three months after his 39th birthday. His life is celebrated each year now as a national holiday, marked in many places by service projects honoring King's legacy.
President Bush visited a high school here in Washington to cheer on volunteers donating their time for a community project.
"I encourage people all around the country to serve somebody in need. And by serving someone in need, you are honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King," said the president.
In Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, a new exhibit puts thousands of his personal documents on display for the first time, giving the public an opportunity to not just hear King's words, but see them as well.
Shirley Franklin, the mayor of Atlanta, says it is a moving experience. "To see his handwriting and to understand the power not just of the words but of the process, the power that one man can have through hard work and thoughtfulness."
Franklin mobilized a fundraising drive to purchase King's collected papers at auction last year.
"We raised $32 million in a little less than two weeks."
The collection ranges from handwritten copies of King's most famous speeches to private documents such as his college report card.
"You will also see a handwritten version of the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance letter and you will see notes for the Birmingham jail letters. But there are also sermons that have never been published that are completely handwritten. It is a very powerful experience, and we think our visitors will enjoy it."
The exhibit will remain open through May, allowing visitors to learn more about a man whose dream had an impact on the lives of many millions of Americans.