Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.
Pride – U2
They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson
Rosa Parks was 42 years old and on her way home from work on a Thursday evening in Montogomery, Alabama. She was sitting in the front most row of seats for blacks, when the driver directed her to move back so that white passengers could sit there instead. She refused, and was shortly arrested.
Hers was not the first such act of civil disobedience against the racist laws of the United States at that time, but it was perhaps the most significant: from this spark grew the flame of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would lead to the laws that Parks had been arrested under being struck down the following year by the Federal Court. Martin Luther King and others participated in this boycott, and the court decision marked the first major victory of the Civil Rights Movement, setting the stage for both the racial tensions and the legal reforms of the Sixties.
For a speech that lasted only 10 minutes, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the speech. It’s remains one of the most-quoted speeches of the twentieth century. It crystallised the ideals of the American Civil Rights Movement into a single line; a single dream.
And yet oddly, the best known part of the speech – the “I Have A Dream” section itself – was actually an improvisation. Martin Luther King was a great writer and a great orator, but on this day, he departed from the text of his pre-written speech. He spoke with passion and vision. He spoke from the heart, articulating a vision of an America – a world – which we have still not achieved.
King would be Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963, would win the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize…
…and be assassinated a little under eight months later.