• The third Monday of January marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • The civil rights leader was born on 15 January, 1929, and died after being shot in April 1968.
  • His most famous quotes resonate more than ever in the year following the death of George Floyd and the global protests that followed.
  • This article was updated on 18 January 2021.

While the marches and parades that usually celebrate the life of America's most recognized civil rights leader have been paused this year, virtual events will still commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day - a federal holiday in the US, which is celebrated on the third Monday of January and marks his birthday on January 15.

Many will use this day to continue campaigning for the equal world that Martin Luther King wanted to create - particularly following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, which sent shockwaves around the globe and sparked Black Lives Matters protests.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Baptist minister rallied many to the cause of civil rights in America. A passionate believer in non-violent protest, his most powerful weapon was his words.

King delivered some of the world’s most famous speeches that are still remembered – and remain particularly relevant – today.

These are seven of his most famous quotes:

1. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

2. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

3. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

4. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

5. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

6. “It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war’. It is necessary to love peace and to sacrifice for it.”

7. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

 Memorial
Image: Reuters

Martin Luther King was born on 15 January, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He became a passionate campaigner for civil rights using non-violent forms of protest, such as organising boycotts of bus companies that enforced segregation, and marches to highlight the inequality between blacks and whites. He won widespread support including, in 1963, that of President John F. Kennedy.

Later that same year King gave his famous “I have a dream speech” to a crowd of 250,000 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In it, he painted a picture of a future when all people would be treated equally. In 1964, the American government brought in the Civil Rights Act, ending the separation of whites and blacks in public facilities and accommodations. King won the Nobel Peace prize later that year.

In April 1968, King was shot and killed on his motel balcony while preparing to lead a march in Memphis.

More than 50 years after his death, racial tensions are still prevalent in the United States. 2020 saw protests across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd.