Spread the message of nonviolent resistance, Pastor. Martin Luther King. was the leading voice of the American Civil Rights Movement.
The protests he organized, the marches he led and the speeches he delivered continue to resonate today. They were also key to the creation of landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to fight racial inequality. Years after his death, his birthday became a national holiday. Many schools, streets and buildings are named after King, and in 2011 he became the first African-American to receive a memorial on the National Mall in Washington.
If we pause to reflect on King’s legacy, let’s look back at his defining years in pictures.
On January 27, 1956, King outlined strategies for a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Sitting in the front row was Rosa Parks, a seamstress whose refusal to give up bus seats to white men sparked a year-long boycott. Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
King poses for a photo in front of police after he was arrested for directing the Montgomery bus boycott in February 1956. Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
King rests at home with his wife Coretta and daughter Yolanda in May 1956. The king had four children. Michael Oakes Archives/Getty Images
In November 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregated bus laws were unconstitutional. In December 1956, the day after the boycott ended, King rode a Montgomery bus. Bateman Archives/Getty Images
King speaks near the Reflecting Pool in Washington as part of a prayer pilgrimage for freedom in May 1957. It was the first time King addressed a national audience in his “Give Us the Votes” speech calling for equal voting rights. Houghton Archives/Getty Images
A man puts a dab of powder on King’s forehead before appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in August 1957. Henry Burroughs/AP
On September 3, 1958, police pushed King across a table in Montgomery, Alabama, as he was booked for loitering near a courthouse. Kim is trying to enter a hearing for a man accused of assaulting Kim’s colleague, Ralph Abernathy. Charles Moore/Getty Images
On September 20, 1958, King was photographed at Harlem Hospital in New York after being stabbed in the chest. The near-fatal incident happened while he was signing his book “Towards Freedom” at a bookstore in Harlem. The attacker was Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who was hospitalized herself.
Pat Candido/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images
Standing next to his son, Martin Luther III, in April 1960, King held up a crucifix that had been burned on the front lawn of his home. Bateman Archives/Getty Images
In September 1960, King preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. After he moved from Montgomery, he became a co-pastor there with his father. King was born in Atlanta and attended Morehouse College there in the 1940s. Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
In September 1960, King spoke with a group of college students. Students are organizing sit-ins to protest lunch counter segregation in Atlanta. Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
In November 1960, King debated racial segregation with newspaper editor James J. Kilpatrick. NBC’s John McCaffery moderates the nationally televised debate, left. Bob Ganley/NBC/Getty Images
In May 1961, King joined a group of Freedom Riders. The Freedom Rides involved interstate buses driving into the Deep South to challenge racial segregation that persisted despite a recent Supreme Court ruling. In some cities, activists were arrested and beaten. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King and priest. In April 1963, Ralph Abernathy was led away by a police officer after leading a group of demonstrators into the business district of Birmingham, Alabama. While in solitary confinement, King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which said people had a moral duty not to obey unjust laws. Associated Press
King speaks to the crowd during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. It was here, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. “I dream that one day this nation will rise and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ ” CNP/Getty Images
King, third from right, attends the funeral of victims of the September 1963 Birmingham church bombing. A bomb explodes at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four African-American girls. “These children — innocent, innocent and beautiful — were the victims of one of the most heinous and tragic crimes ever committed against humanity,” King said in his eulogy. A martyred heroine in the holy crusade for liberty and human dignity.” Burton Mcneely/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson talks with King and other civil rights leaders at the White House in January 1964. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Presidential Library
In March 1964, King shook hands with another civil rights icon, Malcolm X. The two took different paths, but scholars say they became more and more alike in the final years of their lives. Henry Griffin/AP
King looks at a bullet hole in the glass door of his rented beach cabin in St. Louis. Augustine, Florida, June 5, 1964. No one was in the house when the shooting happened. Jim Kling/AP
King patted a young man on the back while picketing in St. Louis. Augustine, June 10, 1964. Associated Press
On July 2, 1964, King watched as President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. The Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. Photo 12/UIG/Getty Images
King was welcomed in Baltimore in October 1964, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, he was the youngest recipient ever. Leonard Fried/Magnum Photos
On March 25, 1965, King and his wife led the final leg of the march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital, Montgomery. Some 25,000 people marched to protest discriminatory practices, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, that prevented many black people from voting in the South. It was the last of three parades for the month. The first, which ended in a run-in with police, is now being dubbed “Bloody Sunday”. Associated Press
King addressed protesters at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. It was here that he famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” A few months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, ensuring everyone’s right to vote was protected and execute. Stephen Summerstein/Getty Images
In June 1966, Mississippi state troopers pushed King down during a “march against fear” from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. Associated Press
In February 1968, King spoke at a church in Washington. Matthew Lewis/The Washington Post/Getty Images
In February 1968, King participated in a Vietnam War protest at Arlington National Cemetery. Charles Del Vecchio/The Washington Post/Getty Images
In March 1968, King presented a poster for the upcoming Poor People’s Campaign. The event was scheduled to begin on April 22, 1968. Horace Cotter/AP
King and priest. Ralph Abernathy (right) marches on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, March 28, 1968. Two of the city’s sanitation workers were killed by a malfunctioning garbage truck, and King came to Memphis to support the strike. Sam Melhorn/The Commercial Appeal/The Associated Press
This photograph, taken during a rally in Memphis on April 3, 1968, was one of the last photographs King took. Here he delivered his final speech, now known as the “I’ve Been to the Top of the Mountain” speech. “We had some difficult days,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter to me right now. Because I’ve been to the top of the mountain. I don’t mind. Like anyone, I want to live long. Long life has its place. But I don’t care about that right now. I just want to obey God He has allowed me to go up the mountain. I have seen it. I have seen the Promised Land. I may not be able to get there with you. But tonight I want you to know that as a people we will get to the Promised Land.” Bateman Archives/Getty Images
On April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Here, people stand over King’s fallen body and point in the direction of the gunshots. James Earl Wray was arrested in London in June 1968, pleaded guilty the following year and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
In Atlanta, 1968, Coretta King and her children gathered around her husband’s opened casket. He was 39 years old at the time. Konstantin Manos/Magnum Photos
Produced by Brett Roegiers and Kyle Almond