By Ashley Johnson
The Civil Rights movement is home to some of the most well known African-American leaders in America. One leader in particular stood out from all the rest. This legend who led the fight for civil rights is known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr. was born. He is the second child out of three born in the King Family. Christine, his older sister, and Alfred Daniel Williams, his younger brother, grew up with him in the city’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, along with their father, Martin Luther King Sr., and mother, Alberta Williams King. King’s father was a pastor and his mother was a former schoolteacher. The King Family’s neighborhood was home to some of the most affluent African-Americans in the country.
In his youth, Martin attended segregated schools, and, at the age of 15, was admitted into Morehouse College, former alma mater to King Sr. and his father. In college he took to the study of medicine and law. King did not intend to join the ministry and follow into his father’s footsteps, but later swayed to the idea while under the mentorship of Morehouse’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays. Mays was an influential theologian and forthright supporter for racial equality.
After King graduated in 1948, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. This is where he was awarded his Bachelor of Divinity degree, along with esteemed fellowship, and was elected president of his primarily white senior class. Martin then enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University, finishing in 1953. From this, King earned his doctorate in systematic theology two years later. While in Boston, MLK met his soon-to-be wife, former singer, Cornetta Scott. Ms. Scott was studying at New England Conservatory of Music at the time. King and Scott were in the same year. The two married and had four children: Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice Albertine King.
Martin and his new family settled down in Montgomery, Georgia. In 1954, the area, highly segregated at the time, became the central point of the thriving fight for civil rights in America, acting on the decision of Brown v. Board of Education. December 1, 1955, sparked a civil rights quarrel. Rosa Parks, secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus, and was arrested. This started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Activists continued the boycott for 381 days, creating an economic tension on public transportation systems and business owners. In this boycott, the activists chose Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the protests and speak for them.
In 1957, after the success of the Montgomery Boycott, MLK and his fellow activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, a group devoted to achieving full equality for African-Americans through nonviolent protest. In his role as president, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world, giving lectures on nonviolent protest and civil rights, as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders. One of these leaders that the King met was Ghandi in 1958.
His family moved back to his hometown in 1960, where he joined his father as co-pastor for Ebenezer Baptist Church. As well as co- pastor, King also participated with his fellow activists in civil rights movements. For his involvement on April 12, 1963, in the Birmingham campaign, MLK was arrested. In jail he wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This letter would be a persuasive vindication of civil disobedience directed to a group of white clergymen who had attacked his tactics.
On August 28, 1963, there was a march that would shed light on the racial and civil rights conflicts, know as the March on Washington. As many as 200,000 to 300,000 individuals participated in this march. This march was a factor played in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On the day of the March on Washington, a nationwide and renowned speech, “I Have a Dream”, filled the air throughout the Lincoln Memorial. Martin preached to the mass of races in attendance that day. As word got out, his reputation only grew stronger, winning him the title “Man of the Year” in Time magazine in 1963. In 1964, King also became the youngest person awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout the year of 1965, violence between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators rose, and in August the Voting Rights Act was passed.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Fatally shot, while standing on the Balcony of a hotel in Memphis. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew his last breath. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning, in the wake of King’s death, while riots swept the cities. The convict who shot MLK, James Earl Ray, was sentenced to 99 years in prison- he died in 1998. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a U.S federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and on the third Monday of January, 1986, MLK Day was born.