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Martin Luther King Jr., a man who embodied the U.S. civil rights movement, was assassinated more than 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Here are some key facts about his life.

Early life

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of Martin Luther King Sr., a prominent local preacher and civil rights leader, and Alberta King, a former schoolteacher. King says he first became conscious of racism at age 6, when a white friend’s father wouldn’t allow his son from playing with him.

Organizing protests

King rose to prominence in the mid-1950s when as a young preacher he led the successful drive to desegregate public buses in Montgomery, Alabama, forcing the city to end its practice of segregating black passengers. He organized protests throughout the 1950s and 1960s against Southern segregation in the struggle for black equality and voting rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights marc
FILE - Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., March 21, 1965.

?Nonviolence

King understood a key to success for the civil rights movement was a strategy of nonviolent protests, which he championed as an alternative to armed uprising. King has said he was inspired by the teachings of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. The movement was tested in places like Birmingham, Alabama, where police used attack dogs and fire hoses to disperse protesting schoolchildren and in Selma, Alabama, where a 1965 march is remembered as “Bloody Sunday” because police attacked protesters.

MARTIN LUTHER KING DREAM
FILE - Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 1963.

?March on Washington

King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech launched what had been a mostly black Southern movement into a nationwide civil rights campaign. By August 1963, the push for equality had grown significantly across the country, and 250,000 people, black and white, traveled to the nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington. The protest was peaceful with no arrests.

Political victories

The civil rights movement came to a crescendo in 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act outlawing racial segregation in public places and King won the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year, the Voting Rights Act banned practices that were used to keep blacks from participating in elections.

Assassination

On April 4, 1968, a single gunshot killed King on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers. James Earl Ray, a segregationist, pleaded guilty to shooting King and spent the rest of his life in prison. King, who was 39 when he died, gave a speech the night before his death that foreshadowed his assassination. “And I have 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 there,” he said.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place, April 3, 1968.
Timeline of MLK Assassination, Investigation Into His Killing

Martin Luther King Jr., a man who embodied the U.S. civil rights movement, was assassinated more than 50 years ago on April 4, 1968. Here is a timeline of events before and after his death.

April 3, 1968 — King arrives in Memphis Tennessee, to support striking sanitation workers and checks into the Lorraine Motel.

April 4 (before 6 p.m.) — King leaves his room at the Lorraine Motel to attend dinner at the home of a local minister. He lingers on the balcony to talk to his driver in the courtyard below.

April 4 (6:01 p.m.) — King is shot and rushed to St.

FILE - The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in a steady rain in Washington, Jan. 18, 2015.
How Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday Became a Holiday

The effort to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday began four days after his assassination on April 4, 1968. However, it took more than 15 years for that to happen.

April 8, 1968 — Four days after King is assassinated, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduces the first legislation proposing a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.

1973-1979 — Several states enact statewide King holidays, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.

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