The legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. lives on in Alabama

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Wednesday marks 50 years since Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The day left a permanent scar on the world, but what he fought for -- racial equality -- will always be remembered.

A lot of the good fight happened right here the state of Alabama, he even made a stop here in the Rocket City.

"He was going to be where the action was. He needed to be where there was injustice," said historian Thomas Reidy. A lot of that injustice was happening right here in Alabama.

Rev. King first came to Alabama in 1954. "He came in from Atlanta," said Reidy. "He got his Ph.D. from Boston University. He accepted a job at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery."

By 1955, Reidy says King was already making a name for himself.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat up to a white man on the bus, King was elected to be the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, MIA, an organization created in response to her arrest.

"King was kind of a natural choice to be the leader for the MIA, because of the role he played as pastor of the largest African American Church in Montgomery. He was only 26 years old at the time," said Reidy.

King's work with the bus boycott and MIA launched him into the national spotlight and he became one of Alabama's leading civil rights figures.

Rev. King left the state for a brief amount of time but was invited back to Birmingham to work with locals to fight racial inequality.

At one point he was arrested. This was where he penned one of his pivotal works -- the letter from Birmingham jail -- which was a response to what eight white clergy-men posted in a local paper. "The gist of their open letter was while we support the goals of what Martin Luther King is doing, we do not support his actions," said Reidy. "These things need to be done over time, through the court system."

Then there was Bloody Sunday. One of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most notable times in the state was the march from Selma to Montgomery, crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge. They were met by Alabama state troopers and local police, who shot tear gas into the crowd and beat the protesters.

"It's kind of shocking when you think about it, that the 15th Amendment was passed in the 1860's, now 100 years later you have African American citizens in this country that are having to get beat up because they want to vote."

In between all of these events, King had time to visit the Rocket City in March of 1962. Around the time Huntsville was starting to see it's own protest activity stir. "The level of these protest and the violence didn`t ever rise to the level of Birmingham." Likely due to the federal dollars being poured into the city, Reidy says.

"The fact that Huntsville has needed to recruit from other parts of the country, it's reputation nationally has always mattered more than say in Selma or Montgomery, the capital," explained Reidy.

Reidy says all of the moments in history reflect just how central Alabama was to the civil rights struggle.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.