Martin Luther King Jr. Biography
Dates: Martin Luther King Jr. Biography: born:15/1/29 died:4/4/68
Martin Luther King Jr. was leader of the civil rights movement in the USA throughout the 1960s, until his death by assassination. Under his leadership the movement ended the legal segregation of African Americans in the South. King promoted non-violence while achieving civil rights, including the March on Washington in 1963. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Martin Luther King as a child
King's father and maternal grandfather were Baptist preachers, and pastors at the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His parents were college-educated. The family lived on “Sweet" Auburn Avenue, the “black Wall Street.”
At age six one of King's white friends told him his parents would not allow him to play with King. Also, he was attending a segregated school. At age 15, King entered Morehouse College, Atlanta under a special wartime program to boost enrolment by admitting clever high-school students. Before entering, King spent the summer on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. He was amazed by how peacefully the races mixed in the North.
At Morehouse College, King studied medicine and law, but eventually decided to enter the ministry. Benjamin Mays, the college president and King's mentor, was a social gospel activist whose rich oratory and progressive ideas had impressed Martin Luther King, Sr. Mays prodded the black churches into action by criticizing their stress on the hereafter at the expense of the present. King graduated from Morehouse in 1948.
King spent the next three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He studied Mohandas Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence and contemporary Protestant theologians, earning a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951. Using his oratorical skills, King was elected student president amongst almost exclusively white students.
After Crozer, King went to Boston University and received a doctorate (1955) for his dissertation A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
MarriageKing married Coretta Scott in 1953, an Alabamian studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. They would eventually have four children.
The Montgomery bus boycott
In 1955, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. That year Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to surrender her bus seat to a white man. She was arrested for violating segregation law. Activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the transit system. King was their leader; his home was dynamited but he continued to lead the boycott until the buses were desegregated a year later.
Southern Christian Leadership ConferenceKing organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), as a base of operation for a national platform for speaking in all parts of the country, and for discussing race-related issues with civil-rights and religious leaders home and abroad.
India, Gandhi and Satyagraha
In February, 1959 he was received by India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and discussed peaceful non-compliance (satyagraha) and non-violent resistance with Gandhi's followers.
A Pastor in Alabama meets John F. Kennedy
In 1960 King moved back to Atlanta as co-pastor, with his father, of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. But he devoted most of his time to the SCLC and the civil rights movement. He supported student sit-in demonstrations and was arrested protesting segregation in a department store. Charges were dropped, but King was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm for violating probation on a minor traffic offence. King was released on the intercession of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy— contributing to Kennedy's slender election victory eight days later.
Television and the early sixties
King understood that television could nationalize and internationalize the struggle for civil rights. His well publicised, active, non-violent sit-ins & protest marches attracted blacks and liberal whites, and Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. But there were failures, like in Albany, Georgia (1962), where King failed to achieve desegregation of public facilities.
Letter from the Birmingham jail
In Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators and King was jailed along with hundreds of schoolchildren. Many white clergy had urged African Americans not to demonstrate, but to negotiate peacefully. This stimulated King to write a letter from jail: "You are quite right in calling for negotiation... Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue."
The March on Washington
King and other civil-rights leaders organized the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. This was an interracial gathering of 200,000 at the Lincoln Memorial demanding equal justice for all. King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, the dream being that all men, someday, would be brothers.
The Civil Rights Act and Nobel Peace Prize 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, enforced desegregation of public facilities and outlawed discrimination in employment. In that year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Opposition from within the civil rights movement
Opposition to King's tactics in the civil rights movement came during the 1965 demonstrations in Selma, Alabama against lack of voting rights. On one march, not involving King, demonstrators were attacked by state troopers with nightsticks and tear gas. On leading a second march, he encountered a barricade of state troopers. He led his followers in prayer, and then turned back. This lost King the support of many young radicals. But, anyway, the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
Lack of fast progress led to rioting in the Watts district of Los Angeles. To meet the urban challenge, in 1966, King led a drive against housing segregation in Chicago. But King's campaign was nullified because of the opposition of mayor, Richard J. Daley, and the complexities of Northern racism.
Malcolm X condemned King's non-violent tactics: “It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
In 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City and a mammoth peace rally in that city, King committed himself to opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. But he did not engender much support for this from the black civil rights movement, who largely considered it a divergence from more important matters at home.
Martin Luther King Assasination
In spring 1968 King took a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of a sanitation workers strike. On April 4, standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel, King was killed by a sniper's bullet. James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life.