Today, in the United States, we observe Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday established in 1986 to honor the slain civil rights leader and his accomplishments. In the 1950s and 60s, King grew into a powerful speaker and promoter of nonviolent resistance to unjust laws, inspiring thousands to protest the injustices of segregation and fight these laws in the courts. Arrested many times, his life under constant threat, King and his supporters started to see some progress with the passing of the civil rights bill in 1964, and global recognition for his efforts when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. In April of 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, setting off riots across the nation. Today, nearly 47 years later, a look back at the Reverend Martin Luther King's public life in photos. [37 photos total]

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Civil rights leader Martin Luther King waves to supporters on August 28, 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC during the "March on Washington". King said the march was "the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States." Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. King's killing sent shock waves through American society at the time, and is still regarded as a landmark event in recent US history. (AFP/Getty Images) #
Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama,were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer. Woman at right is unidentified. (AP Photo/Harold Valentine) #
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right, accompanied by Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, center, is booked by city police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 23, 1956. The civil rights leaders were arrested on indictments turned by the Grand Jury in a bus boycott. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick) #
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is welcomed with a kiss by his wife Coretta after leaving court in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 22, 1956. King was found guilty of conspiracy to boycott city buses in a campaign to desegregate the bus system, but a judge suspended his $500 fine pending appeal. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick) #
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shakes hands with Vice President Richard Nixon as they meet to discuss race issues in the South, on June 13, 1957. Senator Irving M. Ives (R-NY) and Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell, far left and far right, look on. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin) #
Martin Luther King, Jr., pulls up a cross that was burned on lawn of his home, as his son stands next to him, in Atlanta, Georgia in 1960. (Library of Congress) #
The home of the Rev. A.D. King, brother of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a shambles after it was dynamited in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 12, 1963.  No one was injured in the blast. (AP Photo) #
Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Alabama, on April 12, 1963. (AP Photo) #
A police officer holds the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by his belt as he leads him to the paddy wagon, following arrest at an anti-segregation protest in downtown Birmingham, Alabama,on April 13, 1963. (AP Photo) #
Civil Rights March on Washington, District of Columbia, Marchers along the mall, showing the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument on August 28, 1963 (National Archives) #
In this August 28, 1963, black-and-white file photo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo) #
In this image from the LBJ Presidential Library, from left Martin Luther King Jr., President Lyndon B. Johnson, Whitney Young, James Farmer attend a meeting on Civil Rights in the Oval Office of the White House on January 18, 1964, in Washington. (AP Photo/LBJ Presidential Library, Yoichi Okamoto) #
Dr. Martin Luther King looks at a glass door of his rented beach cottage in St. Augustine, Florida, that was shot into by someone unknown on June 5, 1964. King took time out from conferring with St. Augustine integration leaders to inspect the house, which no one was in at the time of the shooting. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin) #
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives a young protester a pat on the back as a group of youngsters started to picket in St. Augustine, Florida, on June 10, 1964. (AP Photo) #
In this June 12, 1964 photo, Andrew Young leans into a police car to talk to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the back seat with a police dog as he is returned to jail in St. Augustine, Florida, after testifying before a grand jury investigating racial unrest in the city. (AP Photo) #
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reacts in St. Augustine, Florida, after learning that the senate passsed the civil rights bill on June 19, 1964. (AP Photo) #
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., American civil rights leader, receives the Nobel Peace Prize from the hands of Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1964. (AP Photo) #
(1 of 2) Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, is interviewed by a reporter as he tries to check into the Hotel Albert in Selma, Alabama, on January 18, 1965. (AP Photo/Horace Cort) #
(2 of 2) Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is attacked by States Rights Party member Jimmy Robinson as King tries to register at the Hotel Albert in Selma, Alabama, on January 18, 1965. The woman at left is trying to avoid the altercation. King was not injured. (AP Photo/Horace Cort) #
Wilson Baker, left, Selma, Alabama director of public safety, holds up his hand in front of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on February 1, 1965 to tell him that he and his followers, about 250 of them, were under arrest for parading without a permit. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson) #
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gets a big welcome from several youngsters at Marion, Alabama on February 5, 1965 during visit after his release from jail at nearby Selma. The integration leader had sparked voter registration drives in both Perry and Dallas counties. (AP Photo/Horace Cort) #
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a parade of several thousand civil rights supporters to the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1965. King said the march is to protest rough police treatment of voter rights demonstrators the previous day. Dr. King can be seen in first row of people linking arms together, seventh person from left. (AP Photo) #
Six year old Robin Arrington, daughter of a Miami Southern Christian Leadership Conference attorney, leans on Dr. Martin Luther King's shoulder as Dr. King holds a press conference in Miami, Florida, on April 11, 1966. (AP Photo) #
Members of the American Nazi Party march with signs across the street from the Greater Mount Hope Baptist Church on Chicago's south side, on August 19, 1966. The church was the scene of a meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil rights workers at which plans were announced for further marches into white neighborhoods. (AP Photo) #
A little boy plays “Dixie” on a clarinet and a girl beside him waves a Confederate flag as marchers led by Martin Luther King approach along the shoulder of U.S. 51 near Como, Mississippi, on June 9, 1966. (AP Photo) #
Mississippi Highway Patrolmen shove the Rev. Martin Luther King and members of his marching group off the traffic lane of Highway 51 south of Hernando, Mississippi, on June 7, 1966. The Rev. King, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael (head visible at upper right) and other civil rights leaders had taken up the march begun by James Meredith. (AP Photo) #
Armed Mississippi highway patrolmen and Philadelphia policemen confine a group of white spectators to the sidewalk as a civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King passes in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on June 25, 1966. (AP Photo) #
A large portion of the estimated 5,000 who listened intently to Dr. Martin Luther King, (lower right) from Sproul Hall, University of California administration building in Berkeley, California, on May 17, 1967. Dr. King reiterated his stand for non-violence and urged that young people support a peace bloc that would influence the 1968 elections. (AP Photo) #
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tells a press conference in Chicago, March 24, 1967 that civil rights demonstrations in Chicago “…will be on a much more massive scale than last summer.” King said marches will include some by African American pupils to all-white schools. (AP Photo/Charles Harrity) #
Dr. Martin Luther King recruiting “Poor” people for a march on Washington DC, in Batesville, Mississippi, on March, 19, 1968. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell) #
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy. (AP Photo) #
The day after the shooting, aerial view shows clouds of smoke rising from burning buildings in northeast Washington, DC, on April 5, 1968. The fires resulted from rioting and demonstrations after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (AP Photo) #
Firemen battle a blaze on 125th Street in Harlem, New York, on April 4, 1968, after a furniture store and other buildings were set on fire after it was learned that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. (AP Photo) #
An unidentified woman weeps uncontrollably at a Memphis funeral home early Friday morning, April 5, 1968, as hundreds of mourners filed past the body of Dr. Martin Luther King before it was to be sent to Atlanta. (AP Photo) #
Soldiers attend a memorial service for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King in Da Nang, Vietnam, on April 8, 1968. The chaplain eulogized King as “America’s voice for the wisdom of non-violence” and deplored the violence following his death. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams) #
Two men, one black and one white, join hands as they sing during a solemn tribute to slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 9, 1968. Between 3,500 and 4,000 people, black and white, gathered in a downtown Minneapolis park for the service which coincided with the funeral in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Robert Walsh) #
Ebenezer Baptist Church where people came in great numbers to pay respects to a fallen leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 8, 1968. (AP Photo) #

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