Martin Luther King, Jr., originally Michael Luther King, was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Both King, Sr. and Alberta preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, as King Jr. would later do himself. He had an older sister, named Willie Christine, and a younger brother, named Albert Daniel.
King was exceptionally bright, enrolling at Morehouse College at only fifteen years old. There, he learned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. He then earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Crozer Theological School, before beginning his doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. There he received his Ph.D. in 1955. While in Boston, King also met and married Corretta Scott King, with whom he would have two children.
In 1954, King accepted his first position as a full-time pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. By this point, at the age of 24, he was an executive committee member for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In December of 1955, King helped form the Montgomery Improvement Association, and took charge of the first major non-violent protest of the civil rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott was called in response to the arrest of a woman named Rosa Parks, who refused to forfeit her seat on a bus to a white man. The boycott lasted for 382 days, only ending when the Supreme Court declared the forced segregation of buses unconstitutional.
SCLC – Civil Rights Explosion
Soon afterwards, in 1957, King was elected president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which provided a ideological and organizational foundation for the growing American Civil Rights Movement. He implanted into the SCLC moral ideas and techniques based on Christianity and the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. For more than a decade, he spoke at thousands of locations about civil rights and social justice, as well as writing five books and several articles on the topic. He organized many demonstrations advocating desegregation, labor rights, and the dismantling of prejudice Jim Crow laws.
King’s actions cast him and the Civil Rights Movement into the public eye, becoming the focus of contemporary media attention. In particular, the Birmingham protests, which he organized, and the March on Washington, for which he represented the SCLC and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, both during 1963, sparked a great deal of controversy. The March on Washington, organized by the so-called Big Six organizations of the Civil Rights Movement, ended up a resounding success. The next year, King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was the youngest recipient in the history of the award.
Death and Legacy
On April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed while standing on a balcony outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. he had been scheduled to lead a protest by the city’s garbage workers the next day. Though a man named James Earl Ray was accused of plead guilty to the crime, the exact circumstances surrounding his death have been shrouded in mystery.
Since his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been recognized as one of the greatest advocates for universal civil rights in history, as well as one of the most remarkable modern orators. He is perhaps the most recognizable figure of the Civil Rights Movement, and has posthumously received many awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Born: January 15, 1929
Died: April 4, 1968
Famous For: Leading figure of the Civil Rights Movement and SCLC, one of the greatest American orators.
Key Accomplishments: Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University as well as 20 Honorary Degrees from various Universities, earned the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964.
Significant Quote: “I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”
Fun Quote: “Our scientific powers have outrun our spiritual powers; we have guided missiles and misguided men.”