On the third Monday of every January, the United States celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the iconic Baptist minister and activist who became one of the most well-known leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The first federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was celebrated in 1986, though President Ronald Reagan signed the law in November 1983. It took more than a decade for all fifty states to recognize it, in 2000.
Primary Source Documents
Gilder Lehrman curators explain and explore documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection.
- “Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”: Students will read, analyze, and gain a clear understanding of “I Have a Dream,” a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
- “The Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X”: Students will compare and contrast the different philosophies and methods espoused by the civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Many essays pertaining to Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement have been published on the Gilder Lehrman Institute website and in History Now, the online journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute.
- “A Place in History: Historical Perspective on Martin Luther King Jr. Day” by James Oliver Horton, History Now 4: American National Holidays (Summer 2005)
- “Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement” by Anthony J. Badger, History Now 8: The Civil Rights Movement (Summer 2006)
- “The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies” by James T. Patterson, History Now 8: The Civil Rights Movement (Summer 2006)
- “African American Religious Leadership and the Civil Rights Movement” by Clarence Taylor, History Now 8: The Civil Rights Movement (Summer 2006)
- “The Passage of the Civil Rights Act” by Clay Risen, History Now 41: The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Legislating Equality (Winter 2015)
- “Teaching the Civil Rights Act of 1964“ by Charles L. Zelden, History Now 41: The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Legislating Equality (Winter 2015)