Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister and social activist who was instrumental in the American civil rights movement beginning the 1950s until his assassination in 1968.
Drawing inspiration from nonviolent advocators like Mahatma Gandhi, King fought for the equality of African Americans – a largely economically discriminated group. He based his fight on peaceful protests, reports History.
Of the most remarkable historical moments like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, Martin Luther king had a big role to play. In 1964, he awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize and is yearly commemorated through the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.
Early Years and Family
King Jr is the second born to a pastor, Martin Luther king Sr. who died in 1984 and former school teacher, Alberta Williams king (1904 – 1974). King Jr was born on 15th January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.
He has two siblings, an older sister Christine King Farris (born 1927), and younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King (1930-1969). The three were raised in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, a home to some most prominent African Americans nationwide.
Martin Luther King attended public schools where he emerged as a gifted student. He studied medicine and law although he had a passion of becoming a pastor like his father. He was mentored by Morehouse’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays who describes King as a theologian and outspoken advocate for racial equality.
He joined Boston University where he completed his coursework in 1953 and then graduated with a doctorate in systematic theology two years later. He married Coretta Scott in 1953. The couple had met while still in Boston. They sired four children – Bernice Albertine King (born 1963), Dexter Scott King (born 1961), Martin Luther King III (born 1957) and Yolanda Denise King (1955-2007).
The Montgomery Boycott
King had barely settled in Montgomery for more than a year when this hugely segregated city became an epicenter for struggle for civil rights in America.
On 1st December 1955, Rosa Parks declined to give up her seat for a white passenger on the Montgomery bus and got arrested. Activists subsequently arranged for a bus boycott that would last for 381 days. The public transit system was heavily affected by the boycott. Martin Luther King Jr was selected to be the official spokesman.
In November 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated seating in public buses is unconstitutional even as King entered the national stage as a leader of the nonviolent resistance. But things were not all rosy for him as the white supremacists began to target hi and his family.
As a result of the successful boycotts, King joined hands with other ministers to start the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through nonviolence. He remained a leader of this organization until his death.
“I have a dream” speech
Still in 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. brought on board numerous civil rights and religious groups for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Their intention was to shade light on injustices. Conducted on August 28th, about 200,000 to 300,000 people took part in the march. This greatly impacted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As the march came towards a close, King delivered the much publicized “I have a dream” speech. This was a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric.
“This nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” read some of the speech. This speech helped cement Kings reputation both locally and globally. Time Magazine later on in the year named King Man of the Year. He also went on to become the youngest person ever to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 through fatal shooting as he stood on the balcony of a motel in Memphis. He had travelled in the area to support the sanitation workers strike. With his death, riots sparked all over the country and President Johnson declared a national day of mourning. His assassinator, James Earl Ray was convicted of murder after pleading guilty. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison and died in 1998. Before his death, he recanted his confession and some unlikely advocates, including some from King’s family, supported him.