January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Ga., and was originally named Michael King, Jr. His father, a Baptist minister, changed both their names to Martin Luther King after a trip to Germany. King had a prodigious memory and did well in school, skipping the ninth grade and entering Morehouse College at age fifteen. He graduated from Morehouse with a BA in sociology in 1948 and from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, with a BD in 1951. King also studied theology at Boston University, earning a PhD in 1955. In 1954, King became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. King served as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955. Stride Toward Freedom was his account of the boycott. In 1957, King was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which organized nonviolent campaigns to combat segregation and racial discrimination. In 1959, King returned to Atlanta. The following year, he began to serve as the co-pastor of his father’s church but continued his work with the SCLC.
In April of 1963, King was arrested during an anti-segregation campaign in Birmingham. His “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” was published as a response to critics who wanted to end the campaign. “Letter” was reprinted in Why We Can’t Wait, which also included an account of the Birmingham campaign and a justification for the Civil Rights Movement. In August of 1963, King helped organize and participated in the March on Washington where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights work. King was a key participant in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights and gave a speech at the State Capitol building. In 1966, he and his family moved into a Chicago slum to dramatize the SCLC campaign to end neighborhood segregation. The following year, King began publicly speaking against the Vietnam War and also began planning another march on Washington. Early in 1968, King went to Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike by black sanitation workers. He was shot and killed at his Memphis hotel the day after he gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
The sermons, speeches, and essays of Martin Luther King, Jr., on topics of racial equality and social justice were influential during the Civil Rights Movement and still have relevance today.
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Photo by Marion S Trikosko; courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, LC-DIG-ppmsc-01269.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.