Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most popular civil rights leader in the United States. He was a social activist and a Baptist’s minister who shaped and influenced the American civil rights movements of the mid-1950s. He sought equality for African Americans and economically disadvantaged populations through peaceful protests and resistance. To this date, King is known for the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington that led to the legislation o the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King, Martin Luther was a knowledgeable and selfless leader. Along with his sister Christine and brother Alfred, King grew up in Sweet Auburn neighborhood, which was in then an area dominated by wealthy African Americans. Being gifted, King attended segregated public schools, and the age of 15 he was later admitted to Morehouse College where he studied medicine and law (History). After graduating in 1948, King studied theology at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Later, he enrolled in a graduate program in systematic theology at Boston University and completed his coursework in 1953. Two years later, he earned a doctorate degree.
During his time at Boston, he met his wife Coretta Scott, young singer studying music. The couple wed and settled in Montgomery, Alabama in 1953. King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery. At the time of King’s death, the couple had four children: Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice Albertine King (History).
In less than a year of living in Montgomery, the racially segregated city became the epicenter of the struggle for civil rights in America. The push for equality was galvanized by the court ruling in the Brown vs Board of Education, where racial segregation of children in public schools was found to be unconstitutional (History). Following the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, King was appointed as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Park, the then leader of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus, an event that made disenfranchised Black-Americans to boycott buses for 381 days (History). This long peaceful protests caused a severe economic strain on public transport, and in 1956 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation seating in public transport was unconstitutional.
Following the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, King and other civil rights activists established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group whose objective was to attain full equality for African Americans through the use of nonviolent protests. As the leader of the SCLC, King participated in many civil rights movements in the 1960s. One of the most notable protests is the 1963 Birmingham campaign, in which activists used marches, boycotts, and sit-ins to protest against unfair employment practices and many injustices in the city of Birmingham. Later on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights and religious groups organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (Histroy). This protest had about 250,000 people and was held in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The rally showed the injustices, inequalities, and challenges that African-Americans still faced a century after emancipation. It is also in this rally that King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, which was a passionate call for equality and peace in the country. This speech, in particular, is viewed as one of the reasons for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Following the eruption of violence between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, where the SCLC and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had organized a voter registration, King led the Selma to Montgomery march, which was supported by President Lyndon Johnson. In August of the same year, the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. The events of this march created a wide rift between King and young radicals who were against nonviolent resistance. On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray, a known racist, shot and killed King who was standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike (History).
History. (n.d.). Martin Luther King, Jr. Available from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr. Accessed May 2, 2018.