We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.
Under Dr. King’s leadership, nonviolent protest became the defining feature of the modern civil rights movement in America. King first demonstrated the efficacy of passive resistance in 1955–56 while helping to lead the prolonged bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that succeeded in dismantling bus segregation laws. King’s words were as powerful as his deeds, and his moving and eloquent addresses, which gave hope to millions, continue to inspire people throughout the world.
The legislation to recognize Martin Luther King Day was first introduced in 1968, four days after his assassination. Civil rights activists worked for 15 years for it to be established by the federal government and additional 17 years for it to be recognized by all 50 states. Today it is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities.
Explore items related to King in the collections. Learn five surprising facts about King from our National Museum of African American History and Culture. Listen to the Smithsonian's Sidedoor podcast epsisode about King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington.