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Martin Luther King was born American. He became a Baptist minister, an activist and a humanitarian. Being the son of a minister himself, he tried to avoid to go into his father’s career but he eventually did become a man of the cloth, and that was the pivotal decision that caused all the rest of his legacy to happen. No other individual can claim greater influence over the American 20th century than Dr. King. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed because he pressed for it. The same is true for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally granted African Americans the right to vote. Martin Luther King was tireless in leading the struggle for racial and social justice for people of color. Sometimes called simply MLK, Dr. King fought for a system and a country in which equality was a matter of humanity and not of religion or skin color. On top of all that, Martin Luther King believed in achieving all those goals exclusively by way of peaceful and nonviolent means, which distinguished him from contemporary movements, such as the Black Panthers, who aimed to achieve the same regardless of the means.
It is important to remember that MLK was not the only activist challenging the system on behalf of the African American community. Still, his contribution is considered unique even today. What he was unique in is that he was ready to risk his life to achieve his goals. He always did everything within his grasp to advance his people’s cause and was never willing to quit, stop, or take quarter until some results became visible. Among the most memorable pieces of his legacy is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It made segregation illegal, and while a significant portion of the population was skeptic about the ability of black people to behave as human beings and integrated members of society, it nevertheless brought strength to many so they could strive for a better life. Before those events, Martin Luther King had visited Montgomery and realized the way in which some of the people there were driven apart and discriminated against.
For instance, among the Jim Crow laws, there was this one that stipulated that the first four rows of seats in public transportation had to be kept for white commuters exclusively, and the colored people could only ride on the back of the bus. This system was easily enforced since every single bus driver in Montgomery was white. These drivers were not going out of their way to be polite to black passengers either, as “nigger” or “black ape” was a common greeting to be heard from them. If the bus was full, it was the African Americans who would be forced to give their seats up to white commuters and complete their travel while standing up in the aisle; that was the times when even whites would sit in the back. It would be tempting to think, by current standards, that this kind of discrimination could force the public and the world to pay attention. But it did not.
Then something happened that shocked the system. Not long after MLH’s visit, a woman known as Rosa Parks decided that she was just too exhausted to give up her seat in the front of the bus in favor of a white person. She got arrested. This lead to the Montgomery Improvement Association to come up with NAACP. The NAACP was a program meant to boycott the bus system after Park’s arrest, and Dr. King in person was elected as its leader. During the more than a year that the boycott lasted, Martin Luther King had to face some really serious situations like being threatened, arrested, having his house bombed, etc. Regardless of the challenges, he was set on his goal, and he would go all the way to pursue it until his promise to his people was delivered. The boycott emerged victorious in December 1956 as the courts of law decided that it was unconstitutional to segregate people in public buses on the basis of race.
Then there was another case in the Supreme Cout that grabbed Dr. King’s attention; it was Brown vs. Board of Education. Schools were under segregation at this time so black and white kids could not attend the same schools at all; they couldn’t even use the same water fountains as there were some for blacks and some for whites exclusively. But the problem with this system was not only in the fact that kids of different races had to attend different schools, but that the level of education quality for blacks was being kept purposefully and artificially low. That’s why the public started to notice it. King realized that this case had some common grounds with Plessy vs. Ferguson and stated that it violated the “separate but equal” Doctrine. In addition, this kind of segregation broke the guarantee given by the 14th amendment. Not much later, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional.
These days Dr. King is a hero and a martyr and is widely admired as both. But while he was alive, he was as big a villain for some as he was a hero for others. He was a figure of contention and controversy. Then Martin Luther King had an idea, in 1965. Why should African Americans not have a say on who runs the country they live in? If the ideal of equal treatment for black people was going to become a reality, then black people would have to go into government and acquire power so they could make it happen. It became a priority for the southern Christian leadership conference to have black registered so they could vote. A crowd assembled and marched through Montgomery for three full days, Martin Luther King among them, which brought attention to the plight of the blacks trying to get their voting rights recognized in the south. That same year the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law.
Martin Luther King stood for one thing above all others, and that was the equal treatment of all black men in the USA. Too many people still thought or felt that black population didn’t deserve to live among whites, despite the fact that slavery’s abolition was already an old event, dating back to the 19th century. Discrimination, bad as it was, wasn’t the worst of it; lynchings did happen without reason or clear motive, just out of hatred. Dr. King’s central vision was of a country utterly devoid of racism and discrimination against blacks. He attacked this problem from several points at the same time, creating multiple little strategies that could make people aware of this instead of following a single, big, master plan. And he was committed to achieving this peacefully at a time when many of his contemporaries wanted to turn it into a violent fight. That was his seal, that was what he became most recognizable for – back in the 1960s and up till today.