Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most famous Americans ever. He was a pastor, and a humanitarian, but is known mostly for being a civil rights activist. King was the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s. His use of non-violent protest to affect social change was based on his Christian beliefs. King was born Michael King, but his father changed his name in honor of the German reformer, Martin Luther.
King lived during the most divisive era in American history. The white and the southern culture in the United States wanted nothing to do with social change during the 60s. Segregation laws were in place that prohibited black Americans from eating at the same restaurants as whites, or to ride in the same section on public buses with white Americans. King led the famous 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in reaction to Rosa Park's refusal to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger as was required by law in Montgomery, Alabama at the time.
King started his activism while serving as a Baptist minister for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He believed strongly in the Christian belief that loving thy neighbor as yourself, which was a philosophy he used throughout his civil rights years. He was also a great speaker. His "I Have a Dream" speech is regarded as one of the most famous oratory in American history. In it, he speaks of how his dream is for white and black Americans to walk together hand in hand as brothers. The speech also declared how it was his dream for all Americans to be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
On October 14, 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement in combating racial inequality in the United States. He was assassinated in April, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 39.