Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy through iconic pictures


Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made history as a defining leader of the Civil Rights movement who preached a message of nonviolent resistance.

His hand in organizing a number of significant protests, marches and speeches helped bring about landmark legislation — most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and his message continues to resonate today. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reacts in St. Augustine, Fla., after learning that the senate passsed the civil rights bill, June 19, 1964.  (AP Photo)
LEFT: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appears before a chanting audience in Birmingham, Alabama, April 6 1963. RIGHT: Arial view of the masses who crowd the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, USA, in their freedom march during the historic speech of Dr. Martin Luther King "I Have A Dream" August 28, 1963. (AP Photo/Str)
Dr. Martin Luther King bites into a chip of ice as he leads a march of several hundred persons along U.S. 51 near Senatobia on June 9, 1966. The march on was conducted along a hot, sun-parched section of the Memphis-to-Jackson highway.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rides in the back seat of a police car with a police dog as he is returned to jail in St. Augustine, Fla., after testifying before a grand jury investigating racial unrest in the city, June 12, 1964.  Andrew Young is seen outside the car. (AP Photo)

On April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King was only 39 at the time of his death. James Earl Ray was arrested in London in June 1968, and the next year he confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. 

King’s birthday, Jan. 15, was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1986. In 2011, he became the first African-American to receive a monument on the National Mall in Washington.

As the nation pauses to reflect on the life, death, and legacy of the towering historical figure, these lesser-known pictures depict intimate and iconic moments of Dr. King. 

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In this March 22, 1956, file photo, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is welcomed with a kiss by his wife, Coretta, after leaving court in Montgomery, Ala. 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.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shown speaking to an overflow crowd at a mass meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church.  King, leader of the mass bus boycott, was found guilty March 22, 1956 of conspiracy in the Montgomery bus boycott. He was fined $500.  King said the boycott of city buses will continue "no matter how many times they convict me."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., uses a megaphone to address demonstrators assembled at the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, March 17, 1965 after a meeting with Sheriff Mac Butler left and other public officials. (AP Photo)
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, Ala., on Feb. 23, 1956.  The civil rights leaders are arrested on indictments turned by the Grand Jury in the bus boycott.
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 1958 file photo, Martin Luther King Jr. recovers from surgery in bed at New York's Harlem Hospital on following an operation to remove steel letter opener from his chest after being stabbed by a mentally disturbed woman as he signed books in Harlem. The New York City surgeon, Dr. John W.V. Cordice, who was part of the medical team that saved King the nearly fatal stab wound has died at the age of 95. The death was announced Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, by the city agency that oversees Harlem Hospital Center, where Cordice was formerly an attending surgeon and chief of thoracic surgery.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. escorted from Fulton County, Ga., jail by two unidentified officers as he is taken to neighboring DeKalb County courthouse for a traffic hearing on Oct. 25, 1960.
President Kennedy poses August 28, 1963 at the White House with a group of leaders of the March on Washington.  From left, Whitney Young, National Urban League; Dr. Martin Luther King, Christian Leadership Conference; John Lewis, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee;  Rabbi Joachim Prinz, American Jewish Congress; Dr. Eugene P. Donnaly, National Council of Churches; A. Philip Randolph, AFL-CIO vice president; Kennedy; Walter Reuther, United Auto Workers; Vice-President Johnson, rear, and Roy Wilkins, NAACP.
The civil rights leader Martin Luther King (C) waves to supporters 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC during the "March on Washington".
In this Dec. 13, 1964, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wife Coretta Scott King, dance at the Malmen Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden where he was a guest of honor on the one year anniversary festivals for the Republic of Kenya. Three days earlier, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize. (
Reverend Martin Luther King, American civil rights leader, invited to Berlin by West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, visits on September 13, 1964 the red wall. Here he is seen at the border Potsdamer Platz, West Berlin, Germany.
Civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy points to the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King was struck in Selma, Alabama on Jan. 18, 1965 as King attempted to register at a formerly white hotel.
Dr. Martin Luther King is presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and Letters by Rev. Victor R. Yanitelli, president of Saint Peter's College at the school's Michaelmas Convocation in Jersey City, New Jersey, Sept. 22, 1965. Dr. King also delivered the convocation address at the ceremony.
Martin Luther King attacks slum conditions at an apartment building in Chicago, Illinois on Feb. 23, 1966 where R.V. Towns lives with his wife Risoe and seven children. Al Raby, CCO, and King and several Catholic priests use shovels to clean up wheelbarrows of trash and ashes from the basement from stair steps.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives a young picket a pat on the back as a group of youngsters started to picket St. Augustine, Fla., June 10, 1964.
In this Aug. 9, 1965, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, chats with his wife, Coretta, left, and civil rights champion Constance Baker Motley before the start of an S.C.L.C. banquet in Birmingham, Ala.
Kentucky Gov. Edward T. Breathitt, left, sat next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a civil-rights meeting in Louisville. Others, from left, were the Rev. F. G. Sampson, president of the Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference, Louisville Mayor Kenneth A. Schmied and Louisville Urban League executive director Charles Steele in December 1965. Breathitt
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., 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. The 39-year-old Nobel Laureate was the proponent of non-violence in the 1960's American civil rights movement. King is honored with a national U.S. holiday celebrated in January.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., left, and Tuskegee attorney Fred Gray break into laughter at a joke told by a speaker at a political rally in Tuskegee, Alabama, April 29, 1966. Rev. King is on a whistle-stop tour through Alabama to encourage block-voting by blacks in the May 3 Alabama primary. Gray is a candidate for a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. mops sweat from his neck at a news conference in which he announced future plans for the integration move in St. Augustine, Florida, on June 17, 1964. King remarked, "It's hotter in more ways than one in St. Augustine." (AP Photo)
Martin Luther King Jr. is given a welcome home kiss by his wife, Coretta, upon his return to DeKalb County, Atlanta, Georgia, from the Reidsville State Prison, on Oct. 27, 1960. Pictured from left to right at the DeKalb Peachtree Airport are the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. (holding Welcome Back sign); Clark College student government vice president Ben Brown (holding We Shall Overcome sign), Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Christine King (with Yolanda and Martin III in foreground), DeKalb County NAACP co-founder Rosetta Williams, and Atlanta Student Movement organizer Lonnie King.

Camille Fine is a trending visual producer on USA TODAY’s NOW team. 

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