Martin Luther King Jr. played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. King sought equality for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind major civil rights events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has been a U.S. federal holiday since 1986. April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while standing on the balcony of a motel. James Earl Ray assinated Martin Luther King Jr. in the evening of april 4, 1968.