Martin Luther King Jr. was an African American clergyman and a well-known leader in the American civil rights movement. Born as Michael Luther Jr, he was once ordained as the Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Later on, he devoted his time in working for the civil rights of black people. Martin Luther King Jr. organized several campaigns and protests to abolish the segregation of people based on race. He is fondly referred to as the human rights icon.
Childhood And Education
Born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King Sr, the Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He was originally named Michael Luther Jr. Michael's family went to Europe in 1934, where his name was changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Willie Christine King was Martin Luther’s elder sister and Alfred Daniel Williams King was his younger brother.
Martin Luther did his schooling from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. After skipping ninth and twelfth grades, he entered Morehouse College at the age of 15. He earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree, in Sociology, from the same college, in 1948. In 1951, he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree, from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. Martin Luther Jr. pursued doctoral studies in systematic theology and earned Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD) degree from Boston University, in 1955.
Martin Luther King Jr. married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. The wedding took place in her hometown - Heiberger, Alabama. They had four children - Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice King. Martin Luther King Jr. was twenty five years old, when was ordained as a Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
Committed to black civil rights at an early age, Martin Luther King Jr. became a member of Executive Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a supreme organization of its kind in the nation. In December 1955, King led the boycott of Montgomery's segregated buses, which lasted for 385 days. During the campaign, he received threats over the phone as well as via mails. The situation got so intensified that eventually, King was arrested and his house was bombed. The campaign was concluded in 1956, with Supreme Court outlawing racial discrimination in public transport. Eventually, Montgomery public buses started operating on desegregated basis. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as a prominent civil-rights leader after the success of the bus boycott.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. became the elected President of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group aimed at harnessing moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the interest of civil rights reform. His trip to India to meet Mahatma Gandhi cemented his belief on non-violence resistance. He took the ideals for SCLC from Christian teachings, adopted the non-violent operational techniques from Mahatma Gandhi and used the ideas of Henry David Thoreau as well.
Birmingham Campaign, 1963
In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Atlanta, to assume the position of co-pastor of his father's church. In the following years, King concentrated on organizing protests, demonstrations and marches, including the Birmingham Campaign in Alabama, in 1963. The campaign, which lasted for two months, was organized as a protest for right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. This protest attracted media’s attention and played a significant role in bringing about the civil rights movement to American politics, in the 1960s. Apart from this, Martin Luther King Jr. also leaded campaigns in St. Augustine, Florida (1964), and Selma, Alabama (1965).
The period between 1957 and 1968 witnessed the appearance of Martin Luther King Jr. more than 2500 times, to speak against the injustices towards black people, which was his race as well. He authored five books and wrote numerous articles on the issue. During this period, King was arrested and imprisoned a number of times by the Southern officials. Director of FBI, J Edgar Hoover, also placed Martin Luther under secret surveillance, as he wanted to discredit him.
A great march was led by Martin Luther King Jr., in Washington DC, on August 28, 1963. The march demanded the end of racial segregation in public schools and thoughtful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment. The protest also put forth the need for protection of civil rights and $2 minimum wage for all workers. Establishment of a self-government for Washington DC was also demanded by the march. The march proved to be successful and concluded with Martin Luther King’s speech at Lincoln Memorial.
Travel To Chicago
After a series of successful campaigns and protests in the South, Martin Luther King Jr., accompanied by Ralph Abernathy and some members of civil rights organizations, traveled to Chicago. The move was aimed at spreading civil-rights activities to North. King and Abernathy went to the slums of North Lawndale, on the west side of Chicago, to demonstrate their support and empathy for the poor people living in those areas. The situation was worse in the North, with corrupt politics and threats of violence becoming intense. Abernathy and King eventually returned to South, leaving behind a young Jesse Jackson to carry on their work.
Martin King Luther suspected the role of US in Vietnam War. In his speech named ‘Beyond Vietnam’, the King also expressed his doubts about the involvement of America in the war. He also opposed Vietnam War, because it used money and resources that could have, otherwise, been spent for the welfare of poor people. He broadened his criticisms, as he saw that the war was affecting the country’s resources and energies.
Poor People’s Campaign
In 1968, with the full support of SCLC, Martin Luther King Jr. organized the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign demanded aid for the poorest communities in the United States. In the same year, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to demonstrate support for black city workers, who were striking for higher wages and better treatment.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated when he was 39 years old. He was shot dead on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of his motel room. The death of King sent shock waves across the country and resulted in riots in cities nationwide. The then President of United States - Johnson, declared a national day of mourning in his honor.
- Recognized as one of the outstanding personalities of the year 1957, by ‘Time’ magazine
- Spingarn Medal from NAACP (1957)
- The Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers (1957)
- The Second Annual Achievement - The Guardian Association of the Police Department of New York (1958)
- Man of the Year 1963, by ‘Time’ magazine
- American of the Decade by Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers International Union (1963)
- The John Dewey Award, from the United Federation of Teachers (1964)
- The John F. Kennedy Award, from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago (1964)
- The Nobel Peace Prize (1964)
- The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamaican Government (1968)
- The Rosa L. Parks Award, presented by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1968)