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Martin Luther King Jr.


Martin Luther King Jr. was best known during his short life as a mighty crusader for civil rights. He was one of the greatest social activists in history. The courage and tenacity of Martin Luther King Jr. brought about significant social and civil change for African Americans, especially in the southern states, but throughout the entire country.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929. One interesting fact is that his original name was: Michael Luther King Jr., but the family changed his name to Martin after his father when he was about six years old.

Dr. King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA when he was only 15 years old. Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1948, he then went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA. He was ordained into the Baptist ministry on February 25, 1948 at 19 years old.


He married Coretta Scott in 1953 and they had four children, 2 boys and 2 girls.

Dr. King became Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL in 1954. It was there that he organized and participated in the non-violent citywide bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955. The boycott lasted 382 days, but by the end of the demonstration, on December 21, 1956, the United States Supreme Court had declared the city bus segregation laws as unconstitutional and both whites and blacks were able to ride city buses as equals for the first time.

In 1957 Dr. King formed what is now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation and campaign for the equality of civil rights for all Americans. Dr. King believed in Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest and change. During the 11 years that Dr. King was part of the organization he traveled over six million miles and spoke over 2,500 times. Also during that time he led a massive protest in Birmingham, AL for equal rights, as well as planning numerous drives to register African Americans to vote.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1963, during the Birmingham protests Dr. King was arrested and jailed. While incarcerated he wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", one of his most famous letters regarding the injustice of current segregation laws and often considered the turning point of the Civil Rights movement. By May 10th of that year, the "Birmingham agreement" was announced and all stores, restaurants, and schools finally became desegregated. On August 28th, 1963 Dr. King led the largest civil rights demonstration, to date, in history at "The March on Washington" with 250,000 in attendance. It is at this demonstration that he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.


Martin Luther King Jr.

January 3rd, 1964 Dr. King was on the cover of Time Magazine as "Man of the Year." On December 10th of the same year, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace at the age of 35 in Norway. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King began to shift his focus from the cause of racial segregation on to the problem of poverty and the destitute living conditions of poor Americans, especially in large cities in the north.

In 1967 Dr. King along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced a new cause: "The Poor People's Campaign." He began this campaign with the hopes of bringing economic justice and housing for the poor in the United States. As he stated: "We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.” -- From "To the Mountaintop" by Stewart Burns, 2004.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1968 Dr. King delivered his famous "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech. That year he hoped that with the "Poor People's Campaign" he could convince Congress to pass a 12 billion dollar "Economic Bill of Rights" which would guarantee employment to all who were able to work, provide income to those unable to work, and to end housing discrimination. Sadly, the March and demonstration that would culminate Dr. King's hopes for the "Poor People's Campaign" would not come to pass.

On April 4th, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis Tennessee.

The following year in 1969, Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King started The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. The Center is a living memorial to the work and philosophy of Dr. King.

In 1986, a national holiday was created in Dr. King's honor on January 15, his birthday.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King lives on today through his letters, sermons, speeches, books, organizations, etc... Because of the diligence and dedication of Dr. King, and people like him, we live in a country that celebrates and strives to honor the diverse cultural, religious, and economic traditions of each and every person.

"If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

- Excerpted from Dr. Martin Luther King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct" presented February 4, 1968.



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