On Monday, January 21st, Americans will celebrate the life of an African-American and civil rights pioneer, Martin Luther King, Junior on the U.S. holiday commemorating his birth. King's actual birthday is January 15th.

King was a key figure in bringing about change at a time when much of the American South was still segregated - and millions of African-Americans faced discrimination, violence and intimidation. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

King's speech in Washington, August 28, 1963: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

With that speech before hundreds of thousands of people in Washington in August 1963, Martin Luther King, Junior galvanized the American public with his eloquent plea for equality for all.

During the 1950s and 1960s, King rose to prominence, preaching non-violence, and participating in many protests and boycotts calling for an end to segregation and racial discrimination.

"There were those who said we would get here only over their dead bodies. Well, all the world today knows that we are here, and that we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying we ain't gonna let nobody turn us around."

Those demonstrations were pivotal moments in the civil rights movement in America that led to the passage of laws guaranteeing equal treatment for African-Americans and other minorities.

Each year on the national holiday commemorating his birth, Americans honor King's memory.

Kurt Schmoke was elected in 1987 as the first African-American mayor of the northeastern U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Schmoke points to this year's U.S. presidential race involving two U.S. senators -- one an African-American man, the other, a powerful former first lady. He says the fact that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are atop the field of Democratic Party nominees should serve as more than a celebration of four decades of a changing American landscape.

Schmoke says, "And the issue that arises this year is 'Are we there yet? Are we there where people are being judged not on their color, but on their principles, their ideals, their character?' Every year [it] is important to think about the ideals that Doctor King talked about, and he essentially was saying, 'Have we lived out the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution?' "

On April 4th, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. The night before, he acknowledged the constant threats to his life, vowing that one man's death could never derail the hopes of millions.

"And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."