Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a message of nonviolent resistance and was the leading voice in the American civil rights movement.

The protests he organized, the marches he led and the speeches he gave still resonate today. They were also instrumental in bringing landmark laws to life, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For his efforts to combat racial inequality, King was the youngest to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And years after his death, his birthday became a national holiday. Many schools, streets and buildings are named after King. In 2011, he became the first African American to receive a memorial on the National Mall in Washington.

As we pause to remember King’s legacy, here’s a pictorial look back at his pivotal years.

On January 27, 1956, King outlined strategies for the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama. In the front row is Rosa Parks, a seamstress who started the boycott that went on for years when she refused to give her bus seat to a white man. Don Cravens / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

King is sitting for a police mug shot in February 1956 after being arrested for directing the Montgomery bus boycott. Don Cravens / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

King relaxed at home with his wife Coretta and daughter Yolanda in May 1956. The kings had four children in all. Michael Ochs Archive / Getty Images

The US Supreme Court ruled in November 1956 that the bus segregation laws were unconstitutional. Here, King rides a Montgomery bus in December 1956, one day after the boycott ended. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

King speaks near the Reflecting Pool in Washington as part of the May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. It was the first time King spoke to a national audience, and his “Give Us the Ballot” speech called for equal voting rights. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

A man put a little powder on King’s forehead before King appeared on NBC’s TV show “Meet the Press” in August 1957. Henry Burroughs / AP

Police push King across a desk in Montgomery, Alabama when he was booked for loitering near a courtroom on September 3, 1958. King tried to enter the hearing of a man accused of assaulting one of King’s colleagues, Ralph Abernathy. Charles Moore / Getty Images

King is photographed at Harlem Hospital in New York after he was stabbed in the chest on September 20, 1958. The near-fatal incident occurred while he was signing copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom” in a Harlem bookstore. The attacker was Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who was later hospitalized herself. Pat Candido / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

With his son Martin Luther III beside him, King pulls up a cross that was burned on the lawn of his house in April 1960. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

King preached a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in September 1960. He co-pastored there with his father after relocating his family from Montgomery. King was born in Atlanta and attended Morehouse College there in the 1940s. Donald Uhrbrock / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

King was talking to a group of college students in September 1960. The students organized sit-ins to protest against the separation of the Atlantic and the bar. Donald Uhrbrock / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

King debates the breakup with newspaper editor James J. Kilpatrick in November 1960. The national televised debate was moderated by NBC’s John McCaffery (left). Bob Ganley / NBC / Getty Images

King joins a group of Freedom Riders in May 1961. The Freedom Ride movement included interstate buses traveling the deep south to challenge the segregation that had persisted despite recent Supreme Court rulings. In some cities, the activists were arrested and beaten. Paul Schutzer / Die LIFE picture collection / Getty Images

King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy are picked up by a police officer after leading a line of demonstrators into the Birmingham, Alabama, business area in April 1963. While in solitary confinement, King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Prison” which said people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. AP

During the March 28, 1963 in Washington, King spoke to a crowd. Here, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. “I dream that one day this nation will be resurrected and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We take these truths for granted: that all human beings are created equal. ‘CNP / Getty Images

The third king from the right attends a memorial service for the victims of the bombing of the church in Birmingham in September 1963. Four African American girls were killed in a bomb attack at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. “These children – not offensive, innocent and beautiful – were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever committed against humanity,” King said in his laudatory speech. “And yet they died nobly. They are the tortured heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. “Burton Mcneely / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

United States President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to King and other civil rights leaders in the White House in January 1964. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Presidential Library

King shakes hands with Malcolm X, another civil rights icon, in March 1964. The two took different approaches, but scientists said they became more alike over the last few years of their lives. Henry Griffin / AP

King looks at a bullet hole in the glass door of his rented beach house in St. Augustine, Florida on June 5, 1964. Nobody was in the house at the time of the shooting. Jim Kerlin / AP

King pats a boy on the back as he pickets in St. Augustine on June 10, 1964. AP

King watches President Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. The legislation forbade discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Photo12 / UIG / Getty Images

King was welcomed to Baltimore in October 1964 after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, he was the youngest ever to receive the award. Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos

King and his wife led the final march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital, Montgomery, on March 25, 1965. About 25,000 people marched in protest against discriminatory practices like election taxes and literacy tests that prevented many black people from voting in the south. It was the last of three marches that month. The first ended in clashes with the police and is now known as “Bloody Sunday”. AP

King speaks to protesters at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. Here he famously said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it tends to justice.” A few months later, President Johnson signed the Suffrage Bill, which ensured that everyone’s right to vote was protected and enforced. Stephen Somerstein / Getty Images

Mississippi patrolmen push King during the “March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, June 1966. AP

King speaks at a Washington church in February 1968. Matthew Lewis / The Washington Post / Getty Images

King took part in a Vietnam War protest at Arlington National Cemetery in February 1968. Charles Del Vecchio / The Washington Post / Getty Images

In March 1968, King showed a poster for an upcoming campaign for the poor. The campaign was to begin on April 22, 1968. Horace Cort / AP

King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, led a march for striking plumbing workers in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 28, 1968. Two plumbing workers in town were killed by a broken garbage truck, and King came to Memphis to support the strike. Sam Melhorn / The Commercial Appeal / AP

This photo, taken during a rally in Memphis on April 3, 1968, is one of the last pictures ever taken by King. It was here that he made his final speech, now known as the “I was on the mountaintop” speech. “We have some difficult days ahead of us,” he said. “But now I don’t care. Because I was on the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like everyone else, I want to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not worried about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he allowed me to go up the mountain. And I looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not come there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people are entering the promised land. “Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

On April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Here people stand over King’s fallen body as they point in the direction the gunshots came from. James Earl Ray was arrested in London in June 1968. The next year he confessed to the crime and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Joseph Louw / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

Coretta King and her children gather around her husband’s open coffin in Atlanta in 1968. He was 39 years old. Photos by Constantine Manos / Magnum

Produced by Brett Roegiers and Kyle Almond


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