Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only thirty-nine years old when he was assassinated. 39. But wow, did he live a lot of life in those thirty-nine years.

Born on January 15, 1929, Dr. King attended segregated schools in Atlanta, Georgia, graduating high school at age fifteen. He then attended and graduated from Morehouse College, and Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and received his doctorate degree from Boston University.

In 1954, he became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. At this time, he was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in December 1955, became the leader of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States– the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott lasted 382 days, during which time Dr. King was arrested and subject to personal abuse, and his home bombed. On December 21, 1956, the boycott ended after the Supreme Court declared the laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to provide leadership in the civil rights movement. During his tenure, he gave thousands of speeches, wrote five books, and led protests, including a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that captured worldwide attention, and inspired his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He fought for the Negro vote, and he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was arrested twenty times and assaulted at least four, and was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963. He won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of thirty-five and donated the prize money for use in advancing the civil rights movement.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, standing on the balcony of his motel room. Thirty-nine years old, and so much accomplished. His actions molded our history. He inspired the country–the world–in a mere thirty-nine years.

Many of us have a day off of work on Monday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, but don’t really “observe” the holiday. We use the day to catch up on chores, or spend a long weekend away, or just chill out, happy for a well-deserved break.  While this is all well and good, I propose that we spend a few minutes thinking about Dr. King on Monday, in thanks for all he did for our country in his short life.

Quotes attributed to Dr. King follow.  Have a great long weekend!

* “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

* “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

* “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

* “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

* “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

* “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

* “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education.”

* “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

* “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

* “So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed- ‘we hold these truths to be self-evidence, that all men are created equal.'”

(Sources: nobelprize.org; mlkday.gov)

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