Martin Luther King, Jr. By: Benedict S. Gombocz
Childhood and Education, 1929-1951 Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on Tuesday, January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His birth certificate listed his birth name as Michael Luther King, Jr., but it was later changed to Martin; his father arranged this change in 1935 in honor of German reformer and leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther. His grandfather and father were both pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King was only fifteen when he graduated from high school, having skipped from 9th to 12th grade; he attended Morehouse College and graduated in 1948 with a degree in Sociology. In 1951, he got a Bachelor’s of Divinity followed by a Ph.D. from Boston College in 1955. In Boston, he met Coretta Scott and married her in 1953; they had four children: Yolanda Denise (1955-2007), Martin Luther III (b. 1957), Dexter Scott (b. 1961), and Bernice Albertine (b. 1963).
Becoming a Civil Rights leader, 1955 Martin Luther King, Jr. became co- pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. While he was serving as pastor of the church, 42-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man; this occurred on Thursday, December 1, 1955. On Monday, December 5, 1955, a group of African Americans gathered to discuss the situation, which started the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-1956 As the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, 26-year- old Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was unanimously elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association; because of his young age, he was chosen to lead the boycott. African Americans participated in the boycott by refusing to ride public buses; as the boycott progressed, the buses started losing money and nearly went out of business. The situation often involved so much risk that Dr. King’s home was bombed on Tuesday, January 30, 1956; fortunately, his wife and two-month-old daughter who were at home were unhurt. In February, Dr. King was arrested on charges of conspiracy. The boycott, meanwhile, lasted 1 year and 16 days (382 days). On Friday, December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional; blacks could now ride on buses wherever they wanted, alongside whites.
Southern Christian LeadershipConference, 1957 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established in 1957 with Dr. King named as its leader. Its objective was to provide leadership and organization in the struggle for civil rights. Dr. King adopted the ideas of civil disobedience and peaceful protests based on the works of Henry David Thoreau and the actions of Mohandas Gandhi to lead the organization and the struggle to end segregation and discrimination; these demonstrations and acts of non-violence helped lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Leading non-violent demonstrations rarely were without incident; on Saturday, September 20, 1958, while going on a book tour in New York to promote his book Strive Toward Freedom, Dr. King faced the first attempt on his life- a demented African-American woman named Izola Curry stabbed him in his chest with a letter opener.
Dr. King undergoing surgery at HarlemHospital in New York, September 1958
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 1963 As leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a major part and central figure of many non-violent protests as he helped in leading the fight for desegregation and equal rights; he was arrested several times, which inspired, motivated, and encouraged African- Americans to engage in acts of civil disobedience by also going to jail. The 60s turned the ride of the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the staging of the first “sit-in” on Monday, February 1, 1960, at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Later “sit-ins” were also staged in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, (known that year as “Bombingham”) to protest segregation in restaurants and eating facilities. During one of these, Dr. King was arrested; while he was imprisoned, he wrote his famous letter “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, in which he argued that visible protests would guarantee progress; he also argued that it was an individual’s obligation to protest and in fact refuse to obey unjust laws: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
“I Have a Dream” Speech, August 1963 On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; it was the biggest demonstration of its kind in Washington, D.C., up to this time and an estimated 250,000 demonstrators participated. In this march, King delivered his inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech, his most famous one, while speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Following the success of the march, Dr. King and other leaders met with President John F. Kennedy and asked him for many things like an end to segregation in public schools, greater protection for African-Americans, more effective civil rights legislation, and on down the line. Unfortunately, tragedy struck three and a half weeks later when another bombing, again in Birmingham, this time at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killed four young black girls on Sunday, September 15. On Friday, November 22, President Kennedy was assassinated by a Communist sympathizer, Lee Harvey Oswald, in Dallas, Texas; Texas Governor John B. Connally was wounded, but survived. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a supporter of the Civil Rights movement like Kennedy, became the 36th President.
Man of the Year and Nobel Peace Prize, 1964 Dr. King was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1964; with this honor, he had become part of the world stage. Also in 1964, he met with Pope Paul VI and was honored as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday, October 14, (ironically coinciding with the change of leadership in the Soviet Union from Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev to Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev) becoming the youngest to receive it at the age of 35. He was awarded the prize on Thursday, December 10, saying in his acceptance speech, “I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.” Dr. King gave the whole amount of the prize money to aid with the Civil Rights movement.
Dr. King sitting along the pulpit of EbenezerBaptist Church, Sunday, November 8, 1964
Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize AcceptanceSpeech, Thursday, December 10, 1964
Selma, Alabama, 1965 On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a group of demonstrators attempted to organize a march from Selma to Montgomery; Dr. King did not attend because he preferred delaying it to the following day. The march was very important because it was met with police brutality, which was captured on film; these images had a big impact on those who were not directly involved in the resulting fight in a public outcry for change. Two weeks later, the march was reattempted and the demonstrators made it to Montgomery on Thursday, March 25, where they heard Dr. King speak at the Capital. With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the victory of Lyndon B. Johnson over his Republican opponent Barry M. Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, the peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both 1964 and 1965 were successful years for the Civil Rights Movement in many respects.
Opposition to the Vietnam War and“Beyond Vietnam” Speech, 1967 After 1965, Dr. King retained his commitment to non-violence and the fight for Civil Rights, in spite of constant death threats; he was struck by a stone in Chicago in the summer of 1966 during the Chicago Freedom Movement. By 1967, Dr. King had become a critic of the War in Vietnam and was strongly opposed to American involvement in that war. On Tuesday, April 4, 1967, he delivered a speech “Beyond Vietnam” to a crowd of 3,000 at the Riverside Church in New York; in it, he said there is a mutual link forming between the civil rights and peace movements. He put forward a plan where the United States would cease bombing in North and South Vietnam.
Opposition to the Vietnam War and“Beyond Vietnam” Speech, 1967 – cont. Despite being sympathetic to President Johnson’s Great Society, Dr. King became increasingly critical of U.S. involvement in Vietnam; as the public became more aware of Dr. King’s criticism, his relationship with the Johnson administration worsened. Dr. King came to regard U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia as more than imperialism; in addition, he believed the Vietnam War caused money and attention to turn away from domestic programs created to help poor blacks. Furthermore, King said in “Beyond Vietnam”: “The war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home… We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem”.
Poor People’s Campaign, 1967-1968 Early in 1968, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders organized and planned the Poor People’s Campaign (it was set up in November 1967) in Washington, D.C. , for the spring of that year; the campaign was organized to demand that President Johnson aid the poor in getting jobs, health care and good homes. In March, Dr. King, along with advisors Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, and Andrew Young, went to Memphis; a march was held on Thursday, March 28, which turned violent. Dr. King returned to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3, and skipped a rally that was held in the afternoon; that night, he delivered what would be his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, in which he said: “Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the Mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”.
Assassination, April 1968 On Thursday, April 4, as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King was struck by a single bullet, which damaged more than half of his face and cut into his neck. Only an hour later, he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital after a failed surgery. In the wake of Dr. King’s death, riots erupted in several cities across the country. In Indianapolis, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the slain President Kennedy, managed to prevent a riot by asking the people to say a prayer for the country. Dr. King’s funeral was held in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 9, at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Dr. King’s funeral procession in Atlanta, April1968
Poor People’s Campaign after Dr.King’s death, May 1968 After Dr. King died, Ralph Abernathy was chosen to succeed him as leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to lead the Poor People’s Campaign in Dr. King’s place. Thousands of people took part in the march on Sunday, May 12, 1968. As he led the way for demonstrators, Abernathy said: “We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity, and we will stay until we get it”. Even though as many as 50,000 people marched, the Poor People’s campaign was viewed as a failure by those who had grown tired of protesting and did not see these protests meet with changes.
Posthumous awards and federal holiday Dr. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, in the presence of Dr. King’s wife and father and the Congressional Gold Metal in 2004. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was signed into law as a federal holiday on Monday, January 20, 1986, almost 18 years after his death; it was observed for the first time in all 50 states on Monday, January 17, 2000.
Bibliography http://americanhistory.about.com/od/afamerpeopl e/p/mlking.htm http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/martin- luther-king-jr-speaks-out-against-the-war http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=91626373 Tribute to Dr. King: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56mjwycKuXA