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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Library Guide

MLK Day is observed annually on the third Monday of January.


MLK Day 2023: Monday, January 16

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

Each year, Americans across the country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities. The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President's national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.

Signed into law in January 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, the national Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday is a celebration of Dr. King’s immeasurable contribution to the United States, and to humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Jr Smithsonian


January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

Baptist minister, Civil Rights Movement leader, activist, orator, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known worldwide as a champion of freedom, justice, equality and peace.  King came from a family with deep roots in the Black community of Atlanta and the African American Baptist church. Graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1948, King went on to study theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In 1953 he married Coretta Scott, and they eventually had four children together. Continuing his theological studies, King received a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955 while working as a pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Known for using nonviolent methods, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 in an effort to unite local protest groups throughout the South. King's methods led to the March on Washington in 1963 where he delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. In 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial discrimination and racial desegregation using non-violent means such as civil disobedience.

Later he refocused his work on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. King was was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was made a national holiday in 1983 and is celebrated on the third Monday in January. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in the Mall in Washington, D.C. was dedicated October of 2011.

Hiller, J. L. (1960).  Martin Luther King, Jr. [Photograph]. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. 

Important Dates in the Life of MLK

1929 Born to teacher Alberta King and Baptist minister Michael Luther King.
1944 Graduates from high school at age 15 and enters Morehouse College.
1951 Receives degree from Crozer Theological Seminary.
1953 Marries Coretta Scott, a music student at New England Conservatory; they eventually have four children.
1954 Becomes minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.
1955 Receives Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University; leads boycott of segregated Montgomery buses and gains national reputation.
1956 King's house is bombed; U.S. Supreme Court ruling prompts Montgomery to desegregate buses.
1957 King helps found Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
1958 Writes about the bus boycott in Stride Toward Freedom.
1959 Visits India to study nonviolence and civil disobedience.
1960 Joins his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
1963 Arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham; writes Letter from Birmingham City Jail arguing that individuals have the moral duty to obey unjust laws. Delivers "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington.
1964 Publishes Why We Can't Wait; Congress passes Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlaws segregation in public accommodations and discrimination in education and employment. Receives Nobel Peace Prize.
1965 King and SCLC join voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery; police beat and tear gas marchers; King addresses rally before state capitol, builds support for voting rights. Congress passes Voting Rights Act of 1965 which suspends literacy tests and other restrictions to prevent Blacks from voting.
Mid 1960s King's growing opposition to the Vietnam War angers President Johnson and prompts many White activists to switch to anti-war activities.
1966 King's influence was declining, especially among young Blacks. King turns towards economic issues; SCLC moves civil rights struggle to the North; opens Chicago office to organize protests against housing and employment discrimination.
1967 King plans Poor People's Campaign; advocates redistribution of wealth to eradicate Black poverty; publishes Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.
1968 King is assassinated in Memphis during a visit to support striking Black garbage collectors; violent riots erupt in more than 100 U.S. cities.