What Is the Significance of the Martin Luther King Life Story in History?

As a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to win the fight for equal rights for all races. King served as the leader of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott that culminated in the 1956 Browder v. Gayle U.S. District Court case ruling, which declared racial segregation on buses unconstitutional.

King also helped lead the fight against segregation across the South. As the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King traveled the United States preaching a message of nonviolence and civil disobedience inspired by Gandhi. In 1963, King and his group descended upon Birmingham, Alabama, and were met with brutality by local police. The resulting images of police dogs attacking peaceful protesters, as well as police themselves using powerful water hoses against the protesters, were broadcast across the United States. These images inspired many Americans to support the cause King promoted.

King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered at the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., inspired many more Americans and ultimately pushed the U.S. government to enact the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation. The work of King and his followers were also instrumental in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.