Martin Luther King Jr. Biography
MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.
(January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)
Was an American political activist, the most famous leader of the American civil rights movement, and a Baptist minister. Considered a peacemaker throughout the world for his promotion of nonviolence and equal treatment for different races, he received the Nobel Peace Prize before he was assassinated in 1968. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, and in 1986, Martin Luther King Day was established in his honor. King’s most influential and well-known public address is the “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King entered Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, as he skipped his ninth and twelth highschool grades without formally graduating. In 1948 he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1951 King began doctoral studies in Systemic Theology at Boston University, and recieved his Ph.D. in 1955.
In 1953, at the age of twenty-four, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to comply with the Jim Crow law that required her to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by King, soon followed. It lasted for 382 days, the situation becoming so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on all public transport.
King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization. King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mahatma Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC.
The FBI began wiretapping King in 1961, fearing that communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over six years in attempts to force King out of the pre-eminent leadership position.
King, representing SCLC, was among the leaders of the so-called “Big Six” civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. King organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The second attempt at the march on March 9 was ended when King stopped the procession at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, an action which he seemed to have negotiated with city leaders beforehand. This unexpected action aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, and it was during this march that Willie Ricks coined the phrase “Black Power”.
In 1966, after several successes in the South, King and other people in the civil rights organizations tried to spread the movement to the North, with Chicago as its first target. King and Ralph Abernathy, both middle class folk, moved into Chicago’s slums as an educational experience and to demonstrate their support and empathy for the poor.
King was assassinated in April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
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