Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia and was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr., a Baptist minister. In 1944, when King was only 15-years-old, he got accepted into Morehouse College. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology he was accepted into Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania where he would go on to receive a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951 and would later enter Boston University to pursue a doctorate in Systematic Theology. In 1955, King would receive his Ph.D. At the age of 25, King married Coretta Scott and through that union they produced four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter, and Bernice. King’s first pastoral assignment was at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
King helped to successfully organize the first major protest of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He believed in civil disobedience and non-violent resistance which would ultimately dissolve segregation in the South. He was highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, who was an Indian Civil Rights leader. Although King’s protests were often met with violence, he and his followers persisted which caused them to gain momentum.
A vigorous preacher, King won support from the federal government, Northern whites, and he appealed to Christian and American ideals. Among his numerous endeavors, he directed the African American Civil Rights organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He played a critical role in ending segregation for African American citizens as well as the establishment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On August 28, 1963, King delivered his most famous speech entitled “I have a Dream” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom rally. He concluded the message with the following words:
…when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
We do history a huge disservice if we only think of what King had to say about the vile injustice and offence of racism. He spoke with great passion against the United States’ commitment to the horrendous war in Vietnam. He identified with the people living in great poverty, the underclass, and he spoke out against the way society’s passion was to accumulate wealth. On March 28, 1968, King led a march that consisted of six thousand protesters in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The march resulted in violence, therefore, King had to leave the protest. He returned to Memphis and was determined to lead a peaceful march. During an evening rally at Mason Temple in Memphis, King shared his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Unfortunately, on April 3, 1968, King was shot and killed while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
King was a moving and compelling speaker. Specifically, he could offer a dream of hope. His impassioned speeches changed the course of the nation with Americans, both black and white, who demanded equal rights for people of color and an end to legal segregation.