Martin Luther King Jr. was a United States clergyman and civil rights leader. King became the nation’s most prominent spokesman for equal justice for black Americans. He was a charismatic leader and an eloquent speaker, who preached nonviolent resistance to unjust laws and practices, a tactic he adopted from Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. His civil rights efforts helped to bring about passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In 1983, the U.S. Congress voted to make his birthday, January 15, a national holiday (celebrated on the third Monday of the month).
King began his involvement in the modern civil rights movement in 1955 with leadership of the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott, which ended segregated seating on that city’s public buses. He then urged black Americans to follow the Montgomery example and win their rights through nonviolent protest. As head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he helped to found in 1957, King led demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and boycotts in many cities in both the South and the North, often meeting hostility and sometimes violence (Haskins, 2000). He was jailed several times in the South for his activities. In 1967, he also became a leader of the peace movement, seeking an end to the Vietnamese War.
A. EARLY LIFE
Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, the capital of the US state of Georgia, on January 15, 1929. His father, also called Martin, was a minister of the Christian religion and he passed on his faith to his son.
When Martin was very young, his family was able to protect him from the injustices that black people suffered on a daily basis. Later, as he grew older, he realized the truth. His first school was for black children only, and in the streets and shops of Atlanta, all black people were treated as second-class citizens (Lincoln, 2000).
B. A COLLEGE EDUCATION
Martin Luther King was an excellent pupil, and at 15 years old he moved on to Morehouse College in Atlanta. There he decided that he wanted to be a preacher like his father. In 1948 he took up a place at Crozer Seminary in the state of Pennsylvania, far to the north.
While at Crozer, Martin became interested in the ideas of the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. In particular, he began to share Gandhi’s view that people should not use violence to fight injustice. Martin also met Coretta Scott, a black woman from the Southern state of Alabama. The couple married in 1953, after Martin had left the seminary to study for a postgraduate degree at Boston University in Massachusetts (Haskins, 2000).
A. THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
In May 1954, Martin became preacher at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and moved to the city with his wife. In the same year, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated education was wrong. This was a great leap forward for black civil rights, but it was only the beginning.
In Martin’s new home of Montgomery, all the buses had separate seats for black and white people. If there were no free seats when a white person got on a bus, the law said that a black person had to give up his or her seat. On December 1, 1955, a black passenger called Rosa Parks refused to stand up so that a white man could sit down. She was quickly arrested (Oates, 2002).
Martin and other local black leaders were angry at this injustice, so organized a bus boycott. They asked all the black people of Montgomery to stop traveling by bus and, for over a year, most did. Finally, on December 20, 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled that the bus segregation laws were against the constitution and so illegal.
B. ORGANIZING THE FIGHT
In 1957, Martin Luther King and other leaders set up an organization called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Its main aims were to end segregation, and to make it easier for black people to vote. The Constitution of the United States gave them this right, but the governments of many individual states, especially in the South, tried to stop them from voting. Over the next few years, Martin organized many strikes, marches and other protests. At the same time, he enjoyed a happy family life and by 1963 he had four children (Oates, 2002).
C. A NEW ROLE?
Martin did not give up his work. Instead, he began to think more about the injustice faced by black people in the northern states of the United States, and by other groups of people across the country, particularly the poor of all races. He also began to campaign against the war the Americans were fighting in Vietnam. Martin’s last great plan was to lead a Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. On April 4, 1968, while he was visiting the city of Memphis in Tennessee, he was shot dead by an escaped criminal called James Earl Ray. Four days later, he was buried in Atlanta, Georgia (Lincoln, 2000).
Martin Luther King Jr. has left a very notable reputation that even his own race cannot compare with his notable record as a man who brought changed in America’s society. Martin Luther King, Jr. has truly contributed to the history of United States of America. His upright deeds will not be forgotten for every individual especially for those who experienced racism. He was a type of a leader that was able to lead a mass writhe for racial equality that doomed separation and brought changed to the United States of America. His assassination was not the end of the “black people society” to keep fighting for their rights but it was only the beginning that motivated their hearts to continue fighting for its principles and rights.
1. Haskins, J. The Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Lothrop, Lee & Shephard, 2000).
2. Lincoln, C.E. Martin Luther King, Jr.: a Profile (Hill & Wang, 2000).
3. Oates, S.B. Let the Trumpet Sound: the Life of Martin Luhter King, Jr. (Harper & Row, 2002).