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A key figure in the American Civil Rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr., raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement. In life and in death, his teachings to end racial discrimination and segregation through non-violent methods are still admired today. Since his death, King has been awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Congressional Gold Medal and the United States even declared a national holiday to celebrate his life’s accomplishments.
King was born on January 15, 1929 to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Originally Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr. were both named “Michael” but in 1935, King, Sr. changed their names to “Martin” to honor the protestant Martin Luther. At age 15, King, Jr. entered Morehouse College and graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology. In 1955, King, Jr. received his Doctor of Philosophy from Boston University.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
In 1955, a tired Rosa Parks failed to adhere to the Jim Crow laws that required her to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. This sparked The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Headed by E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr., the boycott lasted for 381 days. During this boycott, King’s house was bombed and he was eventually arrested. The boycott ended with the United States Supreme Court decision to outlaw racial segregation on all public transports.
“I Have a Dream”
King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. This was a group composed of black churches for non-violent protests. Perhaps known best for his, “I have a dream” speech in 1963, King marched to Washington with more than a quarter million people. His speech made demands to end racial segregation in schools and in the employment field, protection for civil rights activists from police brutality and meaningful civil rights legislation. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the most influential speeches in the history of American oratory.
March 7, 1965 is titled “Bloody Sunday” for police brutality against local civil rights workers. Footage of this brutality was shown on televisions across America, leading to a public outrage. “Bloody Sunday” has since been called the turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement.
April 4, 1968
Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting to support black sanitary public work’s employees. They had been on strike for almost a month to gain better wages and better treatment. On the evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. King was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. He was shot at 6:01 p.m. and died shortly thereafter. His final words were spoken to musician Ben Branch:
“Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”
Five days after King’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning. 300,000 people attended the funeral for the slain Civil Rights Leader.
King is revered as a hero and one of the most influential people to step foot on this earth. After his death, his wife, Coretta Scott King followed in his footsteps for Civil Rights movements until her passing in 2006. Shortly after his death, Coretta established the King Center, where they are both entombed.
King can best be described as a non-violent, religious man with a focus on freedom for all.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.