If history had taken a different path, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 81 years old on Friday. Instead, King was felled by an assassin's bullet in Memphis in 1968. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday to celebrate his legacy. The holiday was signed into law in 1983 and celebrated nationally three years later. Locally, a parade in King's honor has woven through St. Petersburg streets every year for the past 25 years. Here are some highlights of King's life, along with a time line of local efforts to remember him and a list of civil rights accomplishments that have been made since his death.
Dr. King's life and influence
Jan. 15, 1929: King is born.
1947: King is licensed to preach.
May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court rules segregation in schools is unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education.
December 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus; King gets involved in the boycott movement.
Feb. 14, 1957: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is founded.
Sept. 9, 1957: Congress passes the first Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction.
Aug. 28, 1963: King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the March on Washington.
Dec. 10, 1964: King receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
Aug. 6, 1965: President Lyndon Johnson signs the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
April 4, 1968: King is assassinated in Memphis.
Local efforts to remember Dr. King
1978: A Tampa group begins sponsoring an annual parade in the city.
1985: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade starts in St. Petersburg.
January 1987: King's nephew, the Rev. Vernon King, leads a march through St. Petersburg.
November 1987: King's widow, Coretta Scott King, visits Eckerd College to speak about nonviolence, love and hope.
1987: After much wrangling, St. Petersburg decides to rename Ninth Street after the slain civil rights leader.
1980s: Pinellas County schools start to give students and staff the day off to celebrate the holiday.
1989: The first King Day march in Hernando takes place in Brooksville.
1989: Tampa changes Buffalo Avenue to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
2003: A plea from a local activist persuades the Zephyrhills City Council to rename Sixth Avenue after King.
Civil rights achievements after Dr. King's death
1968: Shirley Chisholm becomes first black woman elected to Congress.
1971: Pinellas and Hillsborough schools become completely desegregated.
1972: Title IX of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on gender.
1983: King Day is signed into law as a federal holiday.
1986: The holiday is observed for the first time nationally.
1988: Florida makes Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday.
1991: President George Bush signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening existing laws.
2000: For the first time, all 50 states recognize King Day as a holiday.
2001: Colin Powell becomes first black secretary of state.
2008: President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, is elected.
Sources: The King Center, Times archives