King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Civil-rights leader and clergyman Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. He attended Atlanta’s public schools before entering Morehouse College at age fifteen. Upon graduation from Morehouse, King decided to follow his father into the ministry, studying at Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania before earning his doctorate at Boston University. While in Boston King met and married Coretta Scott. In 1954 he began his ministerial work at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama The following year he was thrust into national prominence as he helped organize and became an important spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott. Here his famous rhetoric and philosophy of non-violence were put to the test; attributes which he carried with him throughout his life despite sometime bitter and often violent resistance.
King helped found the Southern Christain Leadership Conference in 1957, and served as its president for the next eleven years. He traveled throughout the South preaching the philosophy of non-violent resistance and offering assistance and advice to desegregation efforts. In 1959 King visited India, homeland of Mahatma Ghandi, whose ideas of non-violence were very formative to King’s own. The following year King returned home to Atlanta as associate pastor at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. In this role, the younger King was free to devote most of his time and efforts to the SCLC and the civil rights movement. That same year “sit-ins” had begun in Greensboro, N.C., and the SCLC financed a conference on the sit-ins. Out of this grew the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. King returned to Atlanta to lead sit-ins at Rich’s department store, for which he was arrested. Later he and the SCLC targeted Albany, Ga. for desegregation efforts and attempts to increase black voter registration. Little success was won in Albany, but King learned valuable lessons for his next target.That target was Birmingham, Ala. Here the disciplined, nonviolent reaction of protestors to organized police brutality received national acclaim.
During this time, King penned his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” By 1963, King was a national figure. He addressed large crowds in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit—but the highlight of the year was the march on Washington by 250,000 protestors. Here, at one end of the reflection pond, King delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. For his work, King was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1963. The culmination of his honors occurred in December 1964 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965, King led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., which helped secure passage of the Voting Rights Act. King continued his efforts at desegregation and began to spread his ideas of nonviolent resistance to areas outside the South over the next few years. Plans were nearing completion for a Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968 when King turned aside to visit Memphis in support of striking black sanitation workers. Here, King stayed in the Lorraine Motel. On April 4, while King was relaxing on the balcony outside his motel room, a shot rang out from the distance striking down the 39-year-old civil rights leader.