On April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., The Oakland Tribune published a story that began, “In the days and years ahead, Martin Luther King Jr. will be numbered among that small but honored company of men who have changed the course of history by sheer force of spirit.”
King, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was greatly influenced by two other men who taught nonviolence: India’s Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth. Following their example, Martin Luther King, Jr. worked to end racial segregation in the United States though nonviolent means. His public appearances and writings during the 1950’s and the 1960’s had a dramatic impact on the American civil rights movement. Even though several attempts had been made on his life, King walked the streets and led demonstrations unarmed and unprotected. He once told a reporter, “I have learned not to think about what the personal consequences might be. I believe with all my heart that God has called me to lead my people in their struggle in this hour. And that is what I must do.”
Education and Family
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, to Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King in the family home in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School before going to Morehouse College to obtain a degree in Sociology. In June of 1948, King graduated from Morehouse College and entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. It was there that he began to study the teachings of Gandhi. After King graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree, he married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, in Marion, Alabama. The couple had four children: Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott and Bernice Albertine.
King began his career as a minister at age nineteen when he was ordained in February of 1948 and became assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. After he finished a doctorate degree in systematic theology at Boston University, he took the job as the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Pursuit of Civil Rights
In 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress, refused to obey Montgomery’s municipal segregation ordinance when she wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Following her arrest, a bus boycott was organized to challenge segregated transportation in the south. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped with the organization of the bus boycott as the newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. During the bus boycott in 1955, King received a frightening phone call in which his life was threatened. It was a defining moment as he knew he had to stand up for justice, for truth, for righteousness even if there were people working against him. He continued to preach nonviolence as a tactic in fighting segregation, even though Dr. King was jailed numerous times, stabbed once and threatened often.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said during his I Have A Dream speech.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. died in a Memphis hospital less than an hour after he was shot in the neck by a gunman while standing on the balcony of a Memphis motel. Americans reacted to the slaying with shock and sorrow with hope that the violence of his death would not overshadow the nonviolence he preached.