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SunJan 15

Martin Luther King

On January 15, we celebrate the birthday of civil right’s leader, Martin Luther King. When we hear his name, we most often think of his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech, the civil rights movement, and, sadly, his assassination. When we celebrate his birthday, let’s take a few moments to look into the personal story of the man himself.

Fast Facts

Birth date:

January 15, 1929

Death date:

April 4, 1968 (age 39)

Zodiac Sign:

Capricorn

Background

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King’s given name at birth was Michael King, which was also his father’s original name, but after a period of gradual transitioning by the elder King, he changed both his and his son’s names in 1934.

King was a middle child, between older sister Christine King Farris and younger brother A.D. King. He sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the film “Gone with the Wind” and enjoyed singing and music. When King was a child, he befriended a white boy whose father owned a business near his family’s home. When the boys were six, they started school: King attended one for African Americans and his friend went to one specifically for white children. Their friendship ended because the boy’s father didn’t want his son playing with a black child.

In 1955, Dr. King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology at Boston University, with a dissertation titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” While pursuing his doctoral studies, King worked as an assistant minister at Boston’s historic Twelfth Baptist Church with Reverend William Hunter Hester, who was an old friend of King’s father and a huge influence on the young man. Also in 1955, Claudette Colvin, a fifteen year-old black schoolgirl in Montgomery, and a few months later Rosa Parks both refused to give up their seats on busses to white men. This lead to the Montgomery bus boycott, urged and planned by Edgar Daniel Nixon and led by King. His role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.

Career timeline

January 15, 1929
Birth of a Visionary

Martin Luther King is born in Atlanta, Georgia.

June, 1948
King Graduates

King graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Morehouse College, Atlanta.

January, 1957
President of SCLC

King is elected President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

September, 1958
First Publication

King writes and publishes his first book on the Montgomery bus boycotts, titled ‘Stride Toward Freedom.’

April, 1963
Letter from Birmingham Jail

Birmingham became the center of the Civil Rights Movement after King was arrested during protests.

August 28, 1963
“I Have a Dream”

King delivered his revolutionary “I have a dream” speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

December 10, 1964
Nobel Peace Prize

For his work on the Civil Rights Movement, King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

April 4, 1968
Assassination

James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, catalysting massive riots across the United States.

Why Martin Luther King is Important

  1. He had a dream

    More than just a speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that he hoped would someday become a reality. He pushed to end segregation and hoped to create a world where people were seen as people, not as the skin color they were born with. 

  2. He inspired a nation

    King wouldn't be able to change the world on his own, but his words ignited the spark inside the hearts of every activist at the time waiting for the right moment to make a difference. As a leader, he inspired countless people to fight for equality around the nation.

  3. We wouldn't know some of our best friends without him

    Odds are, you have a pretty diverse friend group made up of people from different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Without the efforts of Dr. King and people like him, you would never have gotten the chance to have these friends in your life! 

MLK Day: 5 Steps To A National Holiday

  1. The campaign for a new national holiday began

    Although the campaign for a federal holiday in Martin Luther King Jr.'s honor began soon after his assassination, it would not be officially observed in all 50 states until 2000.

  2. The first bill was defeated in the House

    The bill first came to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979, but the result was five votes short of the number needed for passage.

  3. The campaign heated up with celebrity support

    After the King Center sought support from the corporate community and the general public, musician Stevie Wonder released the single "Happy Birthday" to popularize the campaign in 1980.

  4. Some states delayed holiday name changes

    In New Hampshire, for example, the holiday known as Civil Rights Day was not changed to Martin Luther King Day until 1999, when the State Legislature voted to change the name.

  5. The final state made MLK Day official

    In 2000, Utah became the last state to have a holiday named after King, by officially changing Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Martin Luther King FAQs

Why do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday?

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in honor of his life achievements and influence as an American civil rights leader. 
 

When was the first MLK Day?

The first MLK Day was celebrated on the third Monday of January — January 17 — in 1983. 
 

Is January 21 Martin Luther King's birthday?

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is January 15, however, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the third Monday of January, which sometimes lands on the 21. 
 

Martin Luther King’s birthday dates

YearDateDay
2023January 15Sunday
2024January 15Monday
2025January 15Wednesday
2026January 15Thursday
2027January 15Friday

Let’s get social

Here are some special hashtags for the day.

#MLKBday #HappyBirthdayMLK #MartinLutherKingsBirthday

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