“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1966
(photographer: Flip Schulke)
Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—the most recognized clergyman, activist and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Racial discrimination tied together the movement’s multiple aspects, from education to healthcare, from poverty to politics. Under Dr. King’s guidance, thousands of people throughout the United States participated in nonviolent marches, boycotts and sit-ins. Their efforts resulted in numerous legal acts, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion or national origin;” the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
At age 33, as the movement’s undisputed leader, Dr. King had the ear of President John F. Kennedy. At 34, he captured the nation’s attention with his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“It seemed as if every time he spoke, he said something I wanted or needed to hear,” said Rosa Parks, Alabama native and fellow civil rights activist.
At age 35, Dr. King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later, he was assassinated on the balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His legacy continues to inspire and raise hope today. The United States declared King’s birthday (January 15, 1929) a federal holiday in 1986, but did you know…
- He attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at age 15; went on to graduate Morehouse College in 1948, then earned a PhD from Boston University in 1955; Dr. King also received about two dozen honorary degrees.
- He met his wife, Coretta Scott, in Boston. Together, they had two sons and two daughters.
- After Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in December 1955, Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 382 days. During the campaign, Dr. King’s house was bombed, and he was arrested. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
- After finishing his first book and traveling to India, Dr. King became co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1960 in Atlanta.
- Near the end of his life, Dr. King turned his focus to poverty. He wanted a guaranteed family income, and began organizing a march of the poor on Washington D.C., so intense and massive that Congress would have no choice but to face the challenge of downtrodden America. Dr. King put the march on hold, however, to lend support to a sanitation strike in Memphis.
- Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy were on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with King when he was shot.
- His autopsy revealed that though only 39 years old, he had the heart of a 60-year-old man, perhaps a result of the stress of 13 years in the Civil Rights Movement.
- In a February 1968 sermon, Dr. King requested that people not mention awards or honors at his funeral, and instead remember his attempts to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be right on the [Vietnam] war question, and love and serve humanity."
Today, the Lorraine Motel serves as the National Civil Rights Museum, and next to Dr. King’s beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church stands the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Healthcare disparities, however, which Dr. King called the most “shocking and inhumane” form of inequality, persist. According to Kaiser Family Foundation data from 2009 to 2010, 41 percent of low income adults were uninsured, and 45 percent of poor adults were uninsured. Fourteen percent of white Americans were uninsured; 22 percent of black Americans were uninsured, and 32 percent of Hispanic Americans were uninsured. Please keep this in mind as we celebrate the life of a man who fought so peacefully to make the world a more equal place.