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Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher, minister, and one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement. Through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, King advanced the rights of Black Americans during the Jim Crow era of segregation from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.

He participated in and led marches for the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other civil rights. Some of his most notable efforts include the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the 1963 March on Washington –– where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech –– and the organization of two of the three marches from Selma to Montgomery.

King died on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee after being fatally shot by an assassin. James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary, was arrested and pleaded guilty to the assassination.

After his death, nationwide anger and mourning broke out. Days later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.


Calls for a federal holiday commemorating King’s life and legacy started shortly after his assassination. While some states began celebrating as early as 1971, it wasn’t signed until 1983. It was first observed three years later, but some states continued to resist, giving it alternative name or lumping it in with other holidays.

All 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time in the year 2000, 32 years after King’s death. Today, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year. King’s actual birthday is January 15, 1929.


Though he never lived in New Orleans and most of his efforts were based elsewhere, one of King’s most well-known legacy began in the city. King was in New Orleans in 1957 at the New Zion Baptist Church in Central City, where he and other prominent New Orleanians and Louisianans founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Previously called the Southern Negro Leaders Conference, the organization would quickly become the most one of the most important organizations in the civil rights movement. At the meeting, King was elected the first president of the group. He called segregation “a great cancer in the body politic” and that discrimination was “slavery covered up with artificial niceties of complexity.” The SCLC still exists today, and continues to advocate for civil rights and mobilize against discrimination. 

The New Zion Baptist Church recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and is considered an important landmark on the United States Civil Rights Trail.

While King did not organize in New Orleans, local efforts aided the larger civil rights movement and MLK’s mission, like the Dryades Street Boycott and the Woolworth Protests.


Every year, the Library hosts a celebration in honor of King’s legacy with a program we call Remember, Celebrate, Act. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration will be at the Library’s REACH Center on January 10. Located in Building C of the Corpus Christi-Epiphany Community Resource Center at 2022 St. Bernard Avenue, the REACH Center is a new initiative from the Library featuring event and resource center, free coworking space, and public art gallery.

Middle and high school classrooms are encouraged to attend this event. To sign your class up for this fieldtrip, please email


Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with these recommended titles from the Library.

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