American Minister, Nonviolent Protester, and Activist

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is known for his leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement, his courage to “speak truth to power,” and his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered to a crowd of 250,000 supporters. Growing up, King had to witness many accounts of unfair rules and acts of racism against his family and the Black people in his community. This devastated King. Perhaps these cruel acts against a respectable, peaceful people are what awakened him to his spiritual mission to restore humanity.

King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr., was an early figure in the Civil Rights Movement and also a minister. Soon, the young King would follow in his father’s footsteps. In his junior year of high school, he won first prize in an oratorical contest and became known for his public speaking. At the early age of 15, King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that he took an interest in ministry and graduated with a B.A. in Sociology at age 19. King continued his ministry studies at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University. After he completed those programs he was called to be a minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954.

It was in 1955 when King started to do his most important work. A Black woman by the name of Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white person. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), under the leadership of King, coordinated the nonviolent protest known as Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955). The boycott lasted 381 days and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the segregation bus laws were unconstitutional. Martin Luther King Jr. led many nonviolent marches and gave an estimated 2,500 civil rights speeches against segregation, all throughout the southern states of America. He was arrested many times and even assaulted for simply wanting to be treated fairly.

In 1963, King gave one of his most famous and spirited speeches, “I Have a Dream”, a 17-minute speech persuading the American people to stop discriminating on the basis of race. In the following year, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, outlawing discriminatory practices in employment and segregation in public businesses, public places, and public schools. In the same year, King was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to civil rights and achieving racial justice through acts of nonviolence.

In 1965, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King led a nonviolent protest march from Selma to Montgomery, to end discrimination against Black American citizens’ right to vote. The nonviolent protest was met with extreme violence by the local police, but ultimately the protest led to passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In an interview, Maya Angelou, a friend of King and an iconic American poet, once said that “Dr. King had such a good sense of humor and I wish the youth and others would have gotten a chance to see that side of Martin. I think it would’ve helped people see the man.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Only days after his assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Today, King is celebrated as a worldwide icon for civil rights, racial equality, inclusion, justice, nonviolence, and American progress. All around the world, he is honored with monuments, statues, events, stamps, coins, artworks, books, films, and city streets and institutions in his name.

King’s wife, Coretta Scott-King, was also a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. When her husband was assassinated she continued advocating his teachings and honoring his legacy. Coretta founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) and lobbied for January 18th to be declared Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. King Jr. is survived by his four children. Rest in Power!