Preaching a message of nonviolent resistance, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was the leading voice of the American civil rights movement.
The protests he organized, the marches he led and the speeches he gave continue to resonate today. They also played a key role in crafting landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
For his efforts to address racial inequality, King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And 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 monument on the National Mall in Washington.
As we pause to remember King’s legacy, here’s a look back at his defining years in pictures.
On January 27, 1956, King outlines strategies for the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. In the front row is Rosa Parks, a seamstress who sparked the year-long boycott when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Don Cravens/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King sits for a police photo in February 1956 after being arrested for leading the Montgomery bus boycott. Don Cravens/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King relaxes at home with his wife, Coretta, and daughter Yolanda in May 1956. The Kings had four children in all. Archive by Michael Ochs/Getty Images
The United States Supreme Court ruled in November 1956 that bus segregation laws were unconstitutional. Here, King boards a Montgomery bus in December 1956, a day after the boycott ended. Archive Bettmann/Getty Images
King speaks near the Reflecting Pool in Washington as part of the Freedom Prayer Pilgrimage in May 1957. It was King’s first time addressing a national audience, and his “Give Us the Ballot” speech called equal voting rights. Archives Hulton/Getty Images
A man applies a little powder to King’s forehead before King appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” television program in August 1957. Henry Burroughs/AP
Police officers push King through an office in Montgomery, Alabama as he is sentenced for loitering near a courtroom on September 3, 1958. King was trying to enter the hearing of an accused man of attacking one of King’s colleagues, Ralph Abernathy. Charles Moore/Getty Images
King is pictured at Harlem Hospital in New York after he was stabbed in the chest on September 20, 1958. The near-fatal incident happened while he was signing copies of his book ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ at a bookstore of Harlem. The attacker was Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who was later committed to a hospital herself. Pat Candido/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images
With his son Martin Luther III standing beside him, King pulls up a cross that had been burned on the lawn of his home in April 1960. Archive Bettmann/Getty Images
King delivered a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in September 1960. He became a co-pastor there with his father after moving his family from Montgomery. King was born in Atlanta and attended Morehouse College in the 1940s. Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King speaks with a group of college students in September 1960. The students were staging sit-ins to protest the segregation of Atlanta’s lunch counters. Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King debates segregation with newspaper editor James J. Kilpatrick in November 1960. The nationally televised debate was moderated by NBC’s John McCaffery, left. Bob Ganley/NBC/Getty Images
King joined a group of Freedom Riders in May 1961. The Freedom Ride movement involved interstate buses driving through the Deep South to challenge segregation that had persisted despite recent Supreme Court rulings. In some towns, activists have been arrested and beaten. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
King and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy are led away by a policeman after leading a line of protesters through the Birmingham, Alabama business district in April 1963. While in solitary confinement, King wrote his “Letter from Jail of Birmingham”, which said people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. PA
King addresses a crowd during the March on Washington on 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 up and live 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 a funeral service for the victims of the Birmingham church bombing in September 1963. A bomb blast at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church has killed four African American girls. “These children – harmless, innocent and beautiful – were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” King said in his eulogy. “And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. Burton Mcneely/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
US President Lyndon B. Johnson talks with King and other civil rights leaders at the White House in January 1964. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Presidential Library
King shakes hands with Malcolm X, another civil rights icon, in March 1964. The two had different approaches, but researchers said they were more like each other in the later years of their lives. Henry Griffin/AP
King looks at a bullet hole in the glass door of his rented beach cottage in St. Augustine, Florida on June 5, 1964. No one was in the house at the time of the shooting. Jim Kerlin/AP
King pats a youth on the back while picketing in St. Augustine on June 10, 1964. PA
King watches as President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. The legislation prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Photo12/UIG/Getty Images
King was welcomed to Baltimore in October 1964, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, he was the youngest to receive the award. Leonard Freed/Magnum Photos
King and his wife lead the home stretch of a march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol of Montgomery on March 25, 1965. About 25,000 people marched to protest discriminatory practices, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which kept many black people from voting in the South. It was the last of three marches that month. The first ended in clashes with police and is now known as “Bloody Sunday”. PA
King speaks to protesters at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery. It was there that he famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” A few months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which ensured that everyone’s right to vote would be protected and enforced. Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images
Mississippi patrolmen pushed King on the “March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, in June 1966. PA
King speaks at a Washington church in February 1968. Matthew Lewis/The Washington Post/Getty Images
King joins an anti-Vietnam War protest at Arlington National Cemetery in February 1968. Charles Del Vecchio/The Washington Post/Getty Images
In March 1968, King posted a poster to be used for an upcoming poor people’s campaign. The campaign was to begin on April 22, 1968. Horace Cort/AP
King and Reverend Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, March 28, 1968. Two city sanitation workers were killed by a garbage truck defective, and King came to Memphis. to support the strike. Sam Melhorn/The Commercial Call/AP
This photo, taken at a rally in Memphis on April 3, 1968, is one of the last photos ever taken of King. Here he gave his last speech, which is now known as the “I’ve been to the top of the mountain” speech. “We have tough days ahead,” he said. “But that doesn’t matter to me anymore. Because I’ve been to the top of the mountain. And I don’t mind. Like everyone, I would like to live a long time. Longevity has its place. But I don’t care anymore. I just want to do God’s will. And He allowed me to go up the mountain. And I looked. And I saw the promised land. I might not be with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will come to the promised land. Archive Bettmann/Getty Images
On April 4, 1968, King was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Here, people stand above King’s fallen body as they point in the direction the gunshots are coming from. James Earl Ray was arrested in London in June 1968 and the following year he confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Joseph Louw/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Coretta King and her children gather around her husband’s open casket in Atlanta in 1968. He was 39. Constantin Manos/Magnum Photos
Produced by Brett Roegiers and Kyle Almond
Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.