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Demonstrators Outside 1960 Republican Convention

Outside the opening session of the 1960 Republican National Convention, an orderly crowd of demonstrators (including Martin Luther King, Jr., being interviewed at left) urges the party to adopt a strong civil rights platform. | Source: Bettmann / Getty

UPDATED: 8:00 a.m., Jan. 16, 2023:

The annual observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federal holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday of January. What better way to remember the past than to take a journey through the photos that made some of MLK’s most iconic moments live forever?

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This holiday serves as a powerful reminder of the impactful words and actions of Dr. King, whose tireless efforts in the Civil Rights Movement continue to resonate with people today. 

The holiday was signed into law in 1983, despite initial opposition from Republican senators. It officially went into effect in 1986. However, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the holiday was observed in all 50 states.

Dr. King’s message of equality, justice, and nonviolence continues to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds. The holiday is an opportunity to remember and reflect on the contributions of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, and to work towards creating a more just and equitable society.

 It is also a time to honor the memory of Dr. King and all those who have fought for civil rights throughout history. As we mark this holiday, let us recommit ourselves to the ideals of Dr. King, and the ongoing struggle for civil rights and social justice.

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There is still much more work to move Dr. King’s legacy forward. He famously said in 1967, “But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America, people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Decades later, not much has changed. John Light, for the Bill Moyers Report, wrote, “Take a look at these charts about American poverty from King’s day through today using data from the U.S. Census Bureau,” Light said reflecting in 2013 on King’s analysis conditions in 1967. “When King delivered his Two Americas speech, a household in the top five percent income bracket was at least six times wealthier than a household in the bottom twenty percent. Since the late 1960s, the rich have been growing wealthier far more quickly than the poor.”

A 2017 Washington Post report on Federal Reserve data found that Black families and Latino families made significant economic progress from 2013 to 2016, compared to other demographic groups during that three-year period. However, that didn’t mean that minorities closed the wealth gap.

Federal Reserve economists explained that the wealth increase for Blacks and Latinos stemmed from the fact that they had far less wealth compared to Whites. Consequently, even small increases in minority wealth appeared disproportionately large. The median net worth of white households was $171,000. For Black and Latinos households, the median net worth was below $21,000.

In addition, being in the middle of the deadly coronavirus pandemic only increases the strain on many Americans who do not have the privilege of earning a living wage.

Therefore, in honor of MLK’s life and holiday, here are 10 iconic pictures to underscore the civil rights icon’s brave determination to pave the way for each of us to enjoy a freer existence than he did.

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1. We miss you, Dr. King

Celebre Discours De Martin Luther King Source:Getty

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an attempt to silence the freedom fighter’s powerful messages pushing for racial, economic, social and political justice, but in 2018 they ring louder than ever. In the 50 years since that shameful moment in American history, a lot of what King stood for has been realized – but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

2. “…mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.”

Magic Skyway Ride Source:Getty

Dr. King, first and foremost, was a family man. He and his wife, Coretta Scott King, had four children, who they put above everything else to secure their prosperous futures. So it was only right that he not only mentioned them in his famous “I Have A Dream Speech,” he immortalized them in one of the address’ most memorable passages: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” King said during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

3. The March to Montgomery

Selma/Montgomery March Leaders & Crowd Source:Getty

Putting his family and quest for social justice first came with consequences, as America was clearly not ready for such a powerful leader of color with such a strong message of resistance. Pictured: Dr. King and other civil rights icons, including his wife, Coretta Scott King (next to him), led 25,000 people marching in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, 1965, to push for voting rights for Black people. King would later be arrested for his civil disobedience, one of the many jailings that ultimately led Black people being allowed to participate in political elections.

4. A King in the White House

MLK & LBJ In White House Source:Getty

The federal government deemed Dr. King’s overall message for equality a threat to society, resulting in President Lyndon B. Johnson ordering the federal surveillance of any organizing efforts. The government is still practicing these tactics against groups that have picked up King’s civil rights mantle today. Pictured: President Lyndon B. Johnson with King Jr at the White House in December 1963. As head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King was one of the civil rights leaders who consulted with the then-new president.

5. Birds of a feather…

Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier Source:Getty

Dr. King’s push for civil rights for Black people attracted an untold number of followers, including celebrities, a factor that helped spread his message even wider. Pictured: King poses is flanked by (from left too right) Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Asa Philip Randolph and Sidney Poitier, circa 1960.

6. King at home

King At Home Source:Getty

Ever the scholar, Dr. King, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and his Ph. D in theology from Boston University, preached about education just as much as he did about civil rights and social equality. Pictured: Dr. King, who once said “intelligence plus character … is the true goal of education,” is shown surrounded by books in his home office in Montgomery, Alabama in March 1956.

7. King pushed hard against segregation

Martin Luther King Leading Protest March Source:Getty

Desegregation was a major part of Dr. King’s overall message, and he staged a number of protests and delivered a number of addresses underscoring that plight. During a speech in London on Dec. 4, 1964, he spoke of the damaging mental effects segregation caused. “While living with the conditions of slavery and then, later, segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human. Many came to feel that they were inferior,” King said just days before he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. “This, it seems to me, is the greatest tragedy of slavery, the greatest tragedy of segregation, not merely what it does to the individual physically, but what it does to one psychologically.”

8. “I Have A Dream”

Martin Luther King Giving 'Dream' Speech Source:Getty

One of King’s most iconic moments was leading the March on Washington, which included his timeless “I Have A Dream” speech. It was one of the many opportunities he used to push for economic equality in a message that resonated far beyond the estimated 250,000 people in attendance that August day in 1963.

9. April 4, 1968

Widow Of Dr. Martin Luther King In Veil Source:Getty

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was supporting a strike by sanitation workers there. He was just 39 years old. Pictured: King’s widow, Loretta Scott King, is shown leaving her home to attend the private funeral services for her husband on April 9, 1968.

10. A monument fit for a King

Candlelight Vigil Held In Washington On Anniversary Of MLK Assassination Source:Getty

Dr. King’s legacy lives on in many ways, but a recent addition to Washington, D.C.’s lineup of monuments includes a massive statue dedicated to the civil rights icon. If there was any question about King’s place in history, the 450-foot structure answers them and then some. The monument opened in August 28, 2011, exactly 48 years after the March on Washington.