Washington, DC - The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights urged that all Americans celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday, nationally observed this year on January 17, 2005, by recalling the life and legacy of the civil rights leader.

"Many Americans consider Dr. King's 1963 leadership of a peaceful demonstration of more than 250,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C. to be a defining moment of the twentieth century," said Gerald A. Reynolds, Commission Chairman. Amid a three-year period of violence, many wondered whether the nation would be torn apart over race relations. "Dr. King's rousing words that day offered optimism that America's social problems could be resolved," he added.

Dr. King was among the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He wrote Stride Toward Freedom (1958), Why We Can't Wait (1964), and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967). His nonviolent resistance led to numerous arrests in the 1950s and 1960s. On one occasion, he composed Letter from Birmingham Jail. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968, he was shot and killed as he stood on a motel balcony. His birthday is a national holiday, celebrated the third Monday in January.

"Dr. King voiced the hope that his four children would one day live in a nation where they would be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character," Reynolds said. "He inspired us to stand together against discrimination and oppression that had for years limited freedom for many Americans."