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MLK, the Civil Rights Movement, and Public Transportation

January 14, 2022

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Dr. King’s legacy is forever cemented into the DNA of American history. King’s accomplishments included leading and organizing efforts for the voting rights of African Americans, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Dr. King participated in countless non-violent protests and sit-ins. In 1964, at age thirty-five, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for leading non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S. He was the youngest recipient ever to receive this award at the time!

Historically, transportation has been a catalyst for civil rights in bringing about change. Consider these connections:

  • Rosa Parks resisted segregation by refusing to move to the back of a bus.

  • Dr. King went on to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott which ended on December 20, 1956, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.

  • Non-enforcement of the ruling was challenged by the activism and bravery of Freedom Riders who rode interstate buses into the segregated South.

  • Buses were featured in the desegregation of schools.

  • Dr. King worked alongside the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, A. Philip Randolph, to organize the 1963 March on Washington.

Today, there remains additional work to be done to ensure equity across aspects of our operations for our employees, customers and within communities we serve. Beyond legal obligations for compliance, there are moral obligations that Dr. King believed in.

Ideally, equity and inclusion in public transportation includes environmentally just treatment of all neighborhoods; equity in terms of fare setting; and transit network design related to how routes are determined. There are also considerations for employment, procurement, community outreach and how we treat one another. 

MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communitiesIn the spirit of the life work of Dr. King, MLK Day is widely celebrated by serving others through volunteerism. 

Opportunities to celebrate and to volunteer on MLK Day of Service in Philadelphia can be found here and include:


The weekend’s festivities at The African American Museum in Philadelphia center around the theme “Grassroots and Grand Strategies” with programming catering to efforts to promote equity, facilitate generational advancement, and protect the mental and spiritual wellbeing of historically oppressed peoples. Get here on SEPTA. It's a short walk from the 8th Street stop on the Market-Frankford Line or hop Routes 47 or 48.


The National Liberty Museum honors Dr. King’s legacy by focusing on sustainability as service. Throughout the weekend, the museum offers a special gallery guide informing guests about the legacy of Martin Luther King’s advocacy and service, in addition to exhibits about people worldwide taking a stand for sustainability. Get here on SEPTA. Take the Market-Frankford Line to 2nd Street or hop Routes 9, 17, 21, 33, 42, 48, or 57.


The Museum of the American Revolution celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. with programming that highlights the spirit of change both in his work and the American revolution. See a historical reenactment of abolitionist James Forten, a free Black Philadelphian and Revolutionary War veteran, and a painting featuring Forten commissioned by the museum. Get there on SEPTA. Short walk from Jefferson Station or ride SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line to 5th Street/Independence Hall Station. Bus Routes 5, 9, 17, 21, 33, 38, 42, 44, 48, 57, and 121 also stop near the museum.


Throughout the weekend, visitors at the Betsy Ross House have the chance to “meet” Rev. Richard Allen, the first African American to be ordained in the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and one of early America’s most influential Black leaders. Short walk from 2nd Street Station on the Market-Frankford Line or hop Routes 17, 33 or 48.


Eastern State Penitentiary hosts a hybrid in-person and online event commemorating Dr. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Students, educators, legislators, artists and activists split the letter into four acts and offer intermissions between each section to provide space for reflection and connection along the way. Get here on SEPTA. Bus Routes 49, 48, 43, 33, 32 & 7 all get you close. Check out this Perk before you go!


Visit the National Constitution Center — for free! — on MLK Day and enjoy readings of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a family-friendly concert, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Guests can also perform an act of service and donate pens, pencils, crayons, copy paper, hand sanitizer, folders and age-appropriate books to the museum’s school-supplies drive supporting the School District of Philadelphia. Hop the Market-Frankford Line to 5th Street/Independence Hall or Routes 17, 33, 38, 44, 48 or 57.

If you participate as a volunteer in an MLK Day activity, attend one of the above celebrations, or if you have a favorite MLK quote, tell us about it in the comments below! 

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