On this day 54 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at just 35 years old. King received the prestigious award for his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice after years of putting his life on the line for racial equality and the advancement of African-Americans.
After receiving his doctorate in theology, King, Rosa Parks and several fellow activists organized the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first major protest of the Civil Rights Movement. Other key figures responsible for the organization and success of the boycott included A. Philip Randolph, Jo Ann Robinson, Edgar Daniel Nixon, Fred Gray and Charles Langford. Still, King’s unique skill as an orator and philosophy of civil disobedience were pillars upon which the movement was built, as King was inspired by the peaceful practices of Mohandas Gandhi.
As King’s notoriety grew, so did the movement. His impassioned speeches appealing to northern Whites, as well as to Christian and American ideals. In 1963, King led the massive March on Washington, at which 250,000 demonstrators descended upon the Lincoln Memorial to hear the charismatic leader’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Soon, the federal government began to show support, ratifying the 24th Amendment, which abolished poll taxes (literacy tests and other measures to keep African-American citizens disenfranchised) and passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation in public spaces and banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
In October of that same year, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, donating his $54,600 in prize money to the movement.
“I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice,” King proclaimed during his acceptance speech. “I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits… I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land….I still believe that we shall overcome!”
View King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech below.