Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a well-known pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama who rose to prominence as an African-American civil-rights leader of the 1960s. King Jr. died while trying to get rid of discrimination and unfair segregation laws in America.
To this day, King remains a symbol of the nonviolent struggle against segregation. King Jr., initially named Michael King at birth was born on 15th January 1929 in Atlanta Georgia and spent his twelve years at his parent's home on Auburn Avenue. King Jr. was a son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers. King Jr. and his father were both Baptists at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
He attended segregated schools and at the age of fifteen, after graduating from high school, King Jr. enrolled at Morehouse College where he graduated a...
nd received his Bachelor of Arts in sociology in 1948. After college, he went on to receive his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1951, and later a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University.
While in Boston, King met his future wife Coretta Scott who was studying music. They later married and had four children, two sons, and two daughters. Although King considered taking a career after college, he ultimately followed his father's footsteps and eventually became a pastor. In 1954, at the age of 25, King Jr. accepted a position as a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
On December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white man. Local leaders together formed an organization to protest against Mrs. Park's arrest
with King Jr. as the head of the organization. He became the spokesperson of Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 385 days. The boycott became the turning point of King Jr.'s life and the civil-rights struggle. It lasted several months, and the issue was taken to the Supreme Court that later declared segregation as ultimately unconstitutional.
King's role in the boycott transformed him into a national figure and made him the best-known spokesman for the civil-rights movement. Following the success of the boycott, King, and other ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to have a regional organization that would harness the moral authority and organize power of black churches to conduct nonviolent civil-rights protest activities throughout the South.
The ministers and civil-rights leaders who founded the SCLC included, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and others according to an online publication by the National Park Service. The SCLC proved to be the nucleus of the growing civil rights movement that saw the rise of the black power movement in the 1960s epitomized by Malcolm x and other activists, although King Jr. always insisted on nonviolent ideals in the struggle.
King Jr. can be well identified with the quote "I have a dream." It was his best quote that marked him as a civil rights leader as well as an amicable advocate. His recognition of the link between segregation and colonialism allowed him to form alliances with groups that were fighting against oppression outside the United States, particularly colonial governments in Africa.
On March 5th, 1957, King, after accepting an invitation by Kwame Nkrumah, traveled to Ghana to attend the independent ceremony, marking the transfer
of power from the British colony to the Republic of Ghana. Although this was King's first trip outside the United States, it provided him with the general picture of the struggle of the people in Africa. King regarded the invitation as imperative suggesting that “it was a crucial affirmation of the Montgomery struggle and of the ties that existed between black Americans and the Gold Coast (Ghana). “Baldwin (p. 167).
In 1959, King Jr. arrived in Mumbai accompanied by his wife, Coretta, and his biographer and MIA historian Lawrence Reddick, following an invitation by the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The month-long trip was organized and sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. Through the trip, King Jr. met with several people including Prime Minister Nehru, President Prasad, Vinoba Bhave, one of Gandhi’s closest associates in the Indian freedom movement and Gandhi’s relatives and followers.
The trip immensely increased his understanding of the Gandhi ideologies and his commitment to the American civil-rights struggle. Commenting after returning from the trip, King Jr. stated that he was convinced that nonviolent resistance was the best weapon in the struggle for freedom. Kirk (p. 36).
In 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. joined and encouraged Black American students who had started a movement that would later be known as the sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. The protest involved students sitting in racially segregated lunch counters in stores around the city. When approached to leave, the students would decline despite the verbal and sometimes physical abuse. The movement swiftly gained popularity, and by August 1960, it was successful in ending segregation at lunch counters of the southern cities.
By this time, King Jr.
had become a national figure. He moved together with his family to Atlanta, to become a co-pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father. This also allowed him to neighbor the SCLC headquarters as he continued his civil-rights efforts.
He journey to fame always came with personal consequences. Although his house had been bombed severally during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it was On September 20th, 1958, while signing copies of his book ‘stride toward freedom’ that he narrowly escaped death, when a mentally ill woman, Izola Ware Curry stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. King underwent a successful surgery but had to be hospitalized for several weeks thus giving up all protest activities at that moment.
Martin Luther King remains an iconic was an influential speaker who initiated the sense of disregarding racism and oppression for the minority. He often inspired his audience and had their full attention. Another outstanding quality of King's leadership was the ability to establish support from stakeholders of different organizations such as religious groups and labor unions. On August 28, 1963, it was set the day for the historic march where King delivered the inspirational a well as a phenomenal speech 'I have a dream' at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, with an audience of 250 000 people, the largest of its kind at the time, Finkelman (p. 890).
The rising awareness of the civil-rights movement produced a strong effect of opinion among the people living in cities particularly whites. They began to question the nation's treatment of African-American citizens as second class citizens and the values of the Jim Crow laws. As a result, the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 was passed authorizing the enforcement of desegregation of public spaces and outlawing discrimination in public property. The Voting Rights Act was passed as the result of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March.
Following the successful March in Washington and desegregation, King Jr. was named as the personality of the year by time Magazine and became the youngest character ever to win a Nobel peace prize the following year. He also received several awards and honorary degrees. From late 1965 through 1967, King Jr., although met with challenges expanded the civil-rights movement to other larger American cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles. People often criticized his patience, nonviolent appeal to white middle-class Americans as a loophole and non-effective.
King Jr. then began linking between discrimination and poverty in a bid to silence his critics. His view of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was wrong politically, and the war mainly targeted the poor. To appeal to a broader base, he sought to form a multiracial coalition to address the economic and unemployment of the maligned people.
By the age of 39, Martin Luther King Jr. was starting to grow tired of marches, going to jail and the constant threat of death by his opponents. He was also frustrated by the slow progress of civil rights movement increasing criticism from his fellow African American leaders and activists. In what was perceived to be an early prophetic speech to his supporters, King Jr. claimed that he had seen a promised land and that he may not get there with them but wanted them to know that together as a people, they could get to the Promised Land.
next day on April 4th, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray, a former convict. Ray was eventually apprehended after a two-month international manhunt. The killing sparked protest and demonstrations nationwide. Following his death in 1968, his wife, Coretta Scott went on to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. Center whose primary objective was centered in supporting Gandhian-Kingian concepts of nonviolent struggle. Also, she pioneered the effort to honor King in death, by advocating for a national holiday to commemorate him. After several negotiations and waiting for King's commemoration to become law, President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation enacting the Martin Luther King Jr National Holiday.
- United States. National Park Service. "Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
- Kirk, John A. Martin Luther King: Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. NY: Routledge. 2014. Web.
Baldwin, Lewis V. To Make the Wounded Whole: The Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992. Print.
- Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.
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