Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been 82 on January 15, and yesterday we observed the national holiday in his honor.
The above photograph shows a January 18, 1964, White House meeting between four civil rights leaders—Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Whitney Young—and President Lyndon Johnson. A civil rights bill was stuck in the House Rules Committee, and the President was determined to get it moving.
Only five months before the photograph was taken, these same four men had spoken before nearly a quarter of a million people during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King, Jr., the final speaker on that day, inspired the crowd with his ringing declaration that “I have a dream.”
The House finally voted in February 1964 and sent the bill to the Senate. As the year progressed, LBJ’s legislative orchestrations, combined with actions by civil rights supporters on the streets, got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. The President signed it on July 2, and King, Wilkins, Farmer, and Young were in the East Room of the White House with him. (The story of getting the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 through Congress is told in the Summer 2004 issue of Prologue).
The Archives’ online exhibit “Documented Rights” assembles documents from our holdings across the country to chronicle the evolution of human and civil rights in the United States. You can also view the exhibit in person at the National Archives in Kansas City through March 19.