Martin Luther King Jr. waving to participants in the Civil Rights Movement’s March from the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis)
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and led the Civil Rights Movement. Using nonviolent civil disobedience and inspirational speeches, King played a crucial role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the United States. King also helped create the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King was the product of, minister, Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. He had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. King attended Booker T. Washington High School, he was a very gifted student, skipped both the ninth and eleventh grades, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15.
Through much of his adolescence, young King questioned religion, even though his family was deeply involved in the church and worship. It wasn’t until his junior year, when Martin took a Bible class, that his faith was renewed and he began to picture a career in the ministry. Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays encouraged King to view Christianity as a potential force for social change and racial equality.
MLK led a citywide bus boycott, 382 days of walking to work, after the arrest of Rosa Parks. King’s boycott was successful because after several lower court rulings and suffering large financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the law mandating segregated public transportation. In January 1957, Martin Luther King Jr., 60 ministers, and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. With the leadership of King, they would help conduct non-violent protests to promote civil rights reform.
On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, emphasizing his belief for equality. From 1965 to 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. expanded his Civil Rights Movement into other larger American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. But he was met with increasing criticism, as many believed his methods were too weak.
Unfortunately, on April 4, 1968, MLK was assassinated, by small-time criminal, James Earl Ray, due to racial indifferences. Today, MLK is still the most widely known African-American leader, and his life and work are honored. Martin Luther King Jr. was married to Coretta Scott in June 1953. Together they had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice.
By Jon Truong