HistoryMartin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in an America where, because of the color of their skin, nearly 1 in 10 people lived lives that were separate and unequal. In Montgomery, Alabama a rule required all blacks to sit in the rear of public buses. In 1955, when Rosa Parks was told to move to the back of the bus, she said, "No." Martin Luther King, at that time, a young minister in a local Baptist church, then organized a boycott of the bus company—a boycott that stunned the country. Within 6 months the courts had ruled the segregation of public transportation unconstitutional. Dr. King had awakened a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone."
During his all too short lifetime (1929-1968), Dr. King was a leader in the movement to end racial segregation in the United States. He was an advocate of non-violent protest and became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (signed into law on November 2, 1983 and first officially observed on the third Monday of January 1986) is an American holiday marking the birthday of Dr. King. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15.
The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act. The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. President Bill Clinton signed the federal legislation into law on August 23, 1994.
In 1980, only 12 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., before a national holiday had been enacted, and before the MLK monument was conceived, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Mu chapter at Northwestern University initiated the commemoration of this fallen leader and their fraternity brother. What was at first the only University event and what is now known as the Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil included collaboration with the Department of African-American Student Affairs and the University Chaplain’s office. The event was a success from the beginning and became a Northwestern staple in 1983 with the appearance of Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington as keynote speaker. Then-Congressman Washington spoke to an enthusiastic capacity crowd in McCormick Auditorium in the Norris Center. A month later he was elected mayor of Chicago.