Martin Luther King, Jr.: A brief history - NEWS10 ABC: Albany, New York News, Weather, Sports

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A brief history

U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service.
© Caitlin Williams 2012. (Photo: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.) © Caitlin Williams 2012. (Photo: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.)

ALBANY, N.Y. – Martin Luther King, Jr., a baptist minister and a man whose name will forever be entangled in the fight for civil rights, is celebrated for his accomplishments throughout the civil rights era today.  

His Life:

Michael King Jr., was born Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Ga., where his father and maternal grandfather were preachers at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the city.

In 1944, at 15, King attended Atlanta's Morehouse College under a special wartime program that aimed to increase enrollment by admitting promising high-school students. He graduated from the school in 1948, spending the next three years at Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa.  

Earning a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951, King was highly regarded at the school – even voted president of the student body, despite the school being comprised almost exclusively of white students.

From Crozier he enrolled in Boston University, receiving a doctorate in 1955 for a dissertation titled "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman."

During his time in Boston, King met and married Coretta Scott, a graduate of Antioch College, in 1953. The couple had four children – Yolanda, Martin Luther King, 3rd, Dexter Scott and Bernice.

In 1955, King became the minister of a small church in Montgomery, Ala., The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Just down the road from his church, on Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. The Montgomery Improvement Association was created and a bus boycott organized, with King chosen to lead the movement. A little over a year later, the buses were desegregated.

King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, in 1957, to help coordinate and assist local organizations working for the full equality of African Americans.

In 1960, King and his family moved back to his hometown of Atlanta, where he became co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

King's peaceful demonstrations continued, but he found himself jailed many times despite his lack of violence.

In October of 1960, he was arrested along with 33 others while protesting segregation at a lunch counter in an Atlanta department store. Charges were later dropped, but he was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm after it was determined that he had violated his probation on a minor traffic offense committed several months earlier. The case caught national attention, and King was released after Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stepped in.  

A few years later in April of 1963, King was jailed for five days in Birmingham, Ala. after a campaign to end segregation. During his stay at the jail, he wrote a 9,000 word letter known as "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

In the letter he wrote:

"I MUST make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

On Aug. 28, 1963, over 200,000 peaceful protestors joined King in a "March on Washington." During the protest, King delivered his well-known, "I have a dream," speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1964, in the auditorium of the University of Oslo from Mr. Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee.

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind," said King in his acceptance speech. "I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness' of a man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness' that forever confronts him."

King was later present both when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and also the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

His Death:

Shortly before a planned Poor People's March during the DNC, King made a side trip to Memphis, Tenn. in support of a strike by the city's sanitation workers. During his stay, King was shot by a sniper on April 4, 1968 while on balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the assassination, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died on April 23, 1998.

The Holiday:

The legislation for a national holiday recognizing King was sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, and after passing in the House and Senate, it was signed by President Ronald Regan on Nov. 3, 1983. The legislation established Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, to be celebrated each year on the third Monday in January.


In January 2013, the holiday falls on the day President Barack Obama is sworn into office for a second term. It is also the year in which the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of King's March on Washington fall.  

For his public oath, Obama will be sworn using two bibles – one used by Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King's "travelling" bible that he used while on the road.

"Their actions, the movements they represented are the only reason it's possible for me to be inaugurated," Obama said of Lincoln and King in a video released by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "It's also a reminder for me that this country has gone through very tough times before but we always come out on the other side."

"We know our father would be deeply moved to see President Obama take the oath of office using his bible," said King's children in a statement provided by the inaugural committee. "His traveling bible inspired him as he fought for freedom, justice and equality, and we hope it can be a source of strength for the president as he begins his second term.

There will also be a float honoring King in the parade to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony.

Copyright 2013 WTEN/Young Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press, Encyclopedia Brittanica and New York Times archives contributed to this article.


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