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King, Martin Luther Jr. 1929-1968
Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968
Civil rights leader
In the years since his assassination on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King, Jr., has evolved from a prominent civil rights leader into the symbol for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He is studied by schoolchildren of all backgrounds; his words are quoted by the powerless and the powerful, by anyone who has a dream to make her or his life better, to better the nation, or the world. Monuments have been dedicated in his honor and institutions such as the Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, which bears his name, have been established to carry on his work. In 1986, the U.S. Congress made King unique among twentieth-century Americans by designating his birthday a federal holiday.
King was born into a family of Baptist ministers. Martin Luther King, Sr., his father and namesake, was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a position the elder King had inherited from his wife’s father, Adam Daniel Williams. As the son of a pastor growing up among the black middle class, the young King was afforded some opportunities for education and experience not available to children in poorer urban and rural areas. Yet despite his social standing, he was still subjected to the lessons of segregation because of his color. Although his family tradition was intertwined with the church and expectations were high that “M. L.” would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, King first resisted the ministry as a vocation, finding it ill-suited to allow him to address the social problems he had experienced in the South. So, after completing high school early, he entered nearby Morehouse College in 1944 with thoughts of becoming a lawyer or doctor. Later, influenced by the teachings of George D. Kelsey, a religion professor, and Dr. Benjamin Mays, the college’s president, King came to understand the social and intellectual tradition of the ministry. By graduation in 1948, he had decided to accept it as his vocation.
In 1948 King entered the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where for the next three years he studied theology, philosophy, ethics, the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch, and the religious and social views of Reinhold Niebuhr. It was also during this time that King first learned of the nonviolent activism of Mohandas Gandhi. While at Crozer, King earned the
Original given name, Michael, changed to Martin; born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, GA; assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, TN; originally buried in South View Cemetery, Atlanta, reinterred at Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta; son of Martin Luther (a minister) and Alberta Christine (a teacher; maiden name, Williams) King; married Coretta Scott (a concert singer), June 18, 1953; children: Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, Bernice Albertine. Education: Morehouse College, B.A., 1948; Crozer Theological Seminary, S.D., 1951; Boston University, Ph.D., 1955, D.D., 1959; Chicago Theological Seminary, D.D., 1957; attended classes at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. Religion: Baptist.
Licensed to preach by Ebenezer Baptist Church deacons, 1947; ordained Baptist minister, 1948; Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL, pastor, 1954-60; president, Montgomery Improvement Association, 1965-66; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Atlanta, founder, 1957, president and leader of civil rights campaigns, 1957-68; Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, co-pastor with father, 1960-68. Vice-president, National Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of National Baptist Convention.
Awards: Recipient of numerous awards, including Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, 1957; Anisfield-Wolf Award, 1958, for Stride Toward Freedom; named Man of the Year, 1963; Nobel Peace Prize, 1964; Judaism and World Peace Award from Synagogue Council of America, 1965; Brotherhood Award, 1967, for Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?; Nehru Award for International Understanding, 1968; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977.
respect of his professors as well as his classmates. He was elected student-body president, was valedictorian of his class, won a prize as outstanding student, and earned a fellowship for graduate study. He was accepted for doctoral study at Yale, Boston University, and Edinburgh in Scotland. He chose to attend Boston University, where he studied systematic theology with Edgar Sheffield Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf. Again he impressed his professors with his passion for learning and his intellect. After completing his coursework, King began a dissertation in which he would compare the religious views of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
Emerging from Boston University, King had a number of avenues available to him—pursuing a career as a professor, returning to Atlanta to join his father at Ebenezer, or becoming the pastor of his own church, in the North or in the South. He decided to accept the pastorship at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in the Deep South of Montgomery, Alabama. He installed himself as full-time pastor in September of 1954. During his first year at Dexter, King finished his dissertation and worked to organize his new church, to activate the social and political awareness of his congregation, and to blend his academic learning with the emotional oratory of the Southern preacher. He had begun to settle into his role as preacher and new father when the events of December, 1955, thrust upon him the mantle of local civil rights leader.
On December 1, 1955, Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to abide by one of Montgomery’s laws requiring segregated seating on city buses. In response to this incident, several groups within the city’s black community, long dissatisfied with the treatment of blacks on public transportation, came together to take action. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Women’s Political Council, the Baptist Ministers Conference, the city’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zionist ministers, and the community at large united to organize a boycott of the buses. After a successful first day of boycotting, the groups formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to oversee the community action and to work with the city and busline officials to bring about fairer treatment of blacks within the existing laws. King was elected the MIA’s first president.
For 382 days, King and the black community maintained the boycott while white officials from the city and the busline resisted their modest demands: courtesy toward black riders, a first-come-first-serve approach to seating, and black drivers for some routes. During this period, the MIA convinced black-owned taxis to reduce their fares to enable boycotters to afford a means of transportation. Then, when the city blocked that measure, the group organized carpools. King was arrested, slandered, received hate mail and phone threats, and his house was bombed; but from the outset he preached nonviolence to the black boycotters. After Montgomery city officials refused to be moved to change by a number of related federal court decisions, the black community finally won more than it had asked for when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal court decision that ruled against segregation in Montgomery. On December 21, 1956, the integration of Montgomery city buses became mandatory.
To continue the momentum gained from the victory in Montgomery and to spread the movement across the South, King and other black leaders gathered in early 1957 to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, King spent the next few years consolidating the organization’s position as a social force in the region and establishing himself as its leader. King toured the country giving speeches, appearing at rallies, meeting with elected officials and candidates, and writing a book about the Montgomery experience. In 1958 he traveled to Ghana to join in its independence celebration; in 1959 he traveled to India to meet with Nehru and other associates of Gandhi. With demands on his time growing, King decided to resign from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and to accept his father’s offer to become co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This arrangement afforded the younger King the flexibility to devote more time to SCLC activities.
From 1960 to 1962 King and the SCLC renewed their direct action against segregation at the voting booth, at schools, at lunch counters, and at bus stations. King also threw his organization’s support behind other groups fighting the same battles. There were black college students, who would later organize as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), staging sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Montgomery, and Atlanta. There were Freedom Rides initiated by the Council on Racial Equality (CORE) to challenge segregation in interstate bus transportation. These efforts contributed to the eventual desegregation of stores, buses and bus stations.
Yet, along with these successes, King and the Civil Rights Movement also encountered failures. In December of 1961 the SCLC joined members of the black community of Albany, Georgia, in their effort to end segregation in that city. In the end, the city government and law enforcement officials refused to make any substantial concessions and avoided resorting to violence. The black organizations involved, on the other hand, were unable to cooperate among themselves and unable to keep Albany’s blacks from turning to violence. With the failure in Albany, King’s leadership and philosophy of nonviolence as well as the SCLC’s planning came under criticism.
King was able to redeem himself in the spring of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, a city considered by many to be the most segregated in the country. King and the SCLC were invited by local black leaders to help organize a protest to end segregation in downtown stores, to achieve equal opportunity in employment, and to establish a biracial commission to promote further desegregation. In order to attract attention to their demands and to put pressure on local businesses, the protesters employed a march. Birmingham police moved against the first march with clubs and attack dogs and the state court issued an injunction barring further protests. When King and close associate Ralph Abernathy defied the court order, they were arrested and placed in solitary confinement. During his incarceration, criticism by local white clergymen of the movement and King’s actions prompted him to write his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
After being tried for contempt and found guilty, King was released on appeal. He rejoined the protesters. When the adult marchers began to lose their enthusiasm, high school students and younger children joined the march. Around 3,000 marchers were arrested, filling up the jails. Later marches were broken up by police using clubs and dogs and firemen with high-pressure hoses. The police brutality directed toward unarmed black men, women, and children outraged the nation and the John F. Kennedy administration. The growing tide of negative publicity soon convinced Birmingham’s white businessmen to seek an agreement with the protesters.
In the aftermath of the agreement, white extremists bombed King’s hotel and his brother’s home, igniting riots by blacks. However, black leaders, white businessmen, and federal troops sent in by the Kennedy administration were successful in their efforts to halt the violence; the agreement was given time to take hold.
With the success of Birmingham still fresh in the minds of blacks and whites in the South and North, King was poised to assert himself as a national and international leader. On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 blacks and whites marched on Washington, D.C., to raise the nation’s consciousness of civil rights and to encourage the passage of the Civil Rights Bill before Congress at that time. The march was a cooperative effort of several civil rights organization— including the Negro American Labor Council, the Urban League, the SCLC, NAACP, SNCC, and CORE— and the movement’s largest demonstration. King was the last speaker scheduled to address the crowd gathered in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. He began a speech that referred to the lack of progress in securing black rights in the hundred years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; by the time he finished, he had deviated from his prepared speech to offer one drawn from past sermons and the inspiration of the moment, his famous “I Have a Dream” address.
King’s stature as a leader of national and international prominence was confirmed in 1964. In January of that year he became the first black American to be named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” And, in December of that year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to win the award. The recognition that followed from these and other honors prompted journalists and politicians from around the world to seek King’s views on a wide range of world issues. Even so, King remained focused on the “twenty-two million Negroes of the United States of America engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice,” as he stated in his Nobel acceptance speech. Earlier in 1964 he had attended the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that put the federal government firmly behind ending segregation and discrimination in public institutions. But blacks still faced barriers to voting throughout the South, and more subtle economic barriers in other regions.
In 1965 and 1966 King and the SCLC decided to take on these barriers. Civil rights groups stepped up their voter registration drives in the South and King took his strategy of nonviolent confrontation to Selma, Alabama. Marches in Selma and from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery brought publicity to the movement’s voting rights demands and gave momentum to congressional efforts to enact legislation to remedy the situation. In August, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed into law. It gave federal authorities the power to end literacy tests and poll taxes and to monitor all elections.
In 1966 King and the SCLC launched a campaign in Chicago, both to expand their influence into the North and to raise awareness of the issues of urban discrimination and poverty as manifested in housing, schooling, and unemployment. The SCLC influenced some changes and put some long-term operations in place such as Operation Breadbasket. However, the campaign was unable to score the kind of success that it had in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma. Discrimination was more subtle in this northern metropolis than in the segregated South; city officials, including Mayor Richard Daley, were less extreme and more politically astute than their southern counterparts in their response to confrontation; furthermore, Chicago’s black population was more divided, with some elements very much prone to violence.
In the last year of his life, King actively expanded the scope of his efforts to include not only civil rights issues but also human rights issues important to people the world over. As the war in Vietnam escalated in the second half of the 1960s, King grew dissatisfied with the situation. In 1967 he began to speak out consistently against the war. In speeches and rallies around the country, he called for a negotiated settlement. King was recruited by anti-war activists to head an independent ticket for the presidential election of 1968, a position he declined in order to keep his social and moral concerns free from political obligations.
Late in 1967 King directed his organization to begin laying the groundwork for what would be known as the Poor People’s Campaign. He wanted to recruit the poor from urban and rural areas—men and women of all races and backgrounds — and lead them in a campaign for economic rights. The recruited poor, trained in nonviolent direct action, would descend on Washington, D.C., and begin a three-month campaign of marches, rallies, sit-ins, and boycotts to pressure the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and leading businessmen to put a more human face on American capitalism.
In March of 1968, while touring the U.S. to raise support for this new march on Washington, King accepted an invitation to speak on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, who were striking in an attempt to improve their poor working conditions. After a march organized by local leaders was postponed because of a heavy snowstorm, King joined the rescheduled event on March 28. Shortly after the march began, young gang members initiated violence, igniting a riot that ended with one dead, numerous injuries, and widespread property damage. King vowed to return to personally direct another demonstration in order to reestablish nonviolence in this local dispute.
Again in Memphis to plan this march, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The night before, addressing an audience of 500 at the Mason Temple in downtown Memphis, King had given his last speech, which included these words: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
Although widely regarded as one of the great social leaders of the twentieth century, ing has been without critics. He was closely scrutinized during his life by his colleagues in the SCLC, by other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, by those he sought to change, and by state and federal officials affected by state and officials affected by those trying to get behind the symbol to the man and his place in American history.
In SCLC meetings, King often faced disagreements with his lieutenants and advisers over organization, tactics, and campaigns. He received little initial support for his idea to launch the Poor People’s Campaign. Within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, King was not universally accepted as its leader and spokesman. Roy Wilkins, the NAACP, and its strategy of seeking change through legislation and court action were in constant competition with King, the SCLC, and its nonviolent direct confrontation for the support of blacks and white integrationists.
The SNCC criticized King for becoming a symbol and his SCLC adults for interfering with student-initiated grassroots movements. Later in the movement, the two groups grew farther apart when the SNCC and its leader, Stokely Carmichael, espoused the “black power” ideology of violence and black separatism as the only means to bring about change. Local civil rights organizations were often put off by King’s outsiders invading their cities, making headlines, then leaving, never to follow through. Furthermore, numerous civil rights leaders and social commentators severely faulted King for his stand against the war in Vietnam. Some felt he was abusing his prominence to step beyond his expertise; others feared that his linking of the civil rights and anti-war movements would weaken their cause.
King has also received criticism for more personal aspects of his life. During his career as a civil rights leader, his actions and character were repeatedly placed under a microscope through spying and wiretapping ordered by FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. Information about King’s advisers outside SCLC and their links to communism and homosexuality as well as King’s own extramarital relationships was gathered for use to discredit the leader and his organization. Most recently, scholars working on a collection of King’s papers confirmed November, 1990, press reports that significant parts of King’s Ph.D. dissertation had been lifted from the work of Jack Boozer, a fellow student, and the theologian Paul Tillich.
At a time when new generations of Americans more easily see the symbol of the Civil Rights Movement than the man, the gifted yet human activist, many who were close to King fear that his dream for America runs the risk of fading along with the memories of his life. In his biography of King, Bearing the Cross, David J. Garrow quoted one of King’s college classmates, educator Charles V. Willie: “By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr., into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity—his personal and public struggles that are similar to yours and mine. By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise.”
Abernathy, Ralph David, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Harper, 1989.
Garrow, David J., Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Morrow, 1986.
King, Coretta Scott, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., Holt, 1969.
King, Martin Luther, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James Melvin Washington, Harper, 1986.
Oates, Stephen B., Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., Harper, 1982.
Playboy Interviews, Playboy Press, 1967.
Ryan, Bryan. "King, Martin Luther Jr. 1929-1968." Contemporary Black Biography. 1992. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870300045.html
Ryan, Bryan. "King, Martin Luther Jr. 1929-1968." Contemporary Black Biography. 1992. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870300045.html
Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Ga. He attended the Atlanta public schools. Following graduation from Morehouse College in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary, having been ordained the previous year into the ministry of the National Baptist Church. He graduated from Crozer in 1951 and received his doctorate in theology from Boston University in 1955.
In Boston, King met Coretta Scott, whom he married on June 18, 1953. Four children were born to them. King became minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1954. He became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Alabama Council on Human Relations.
Nonviolence: The Bus Boycott
In December 1955, when Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for violating a segregated seating ordinance on a public bus in Montgomery, black citizens were outraged. King, fellow minister Ralph Abernathy, and Alabama's state chairman of the NAACP called a public meeting. African Americans were urged to boycott the segregated city buses, and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed. The boycott lasted over a year, until the bus company capitulated. Segregated seating was discontinued, and some African Americans were employed as bus drivers. When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the bus segregation laws of Montgomery were unconstitutional, the boycott ended in triumph for black dignity.
Overnight, Martin Luther King had become a national hero and an acknowledged leader in the civil rights struggle. The victory had not been easy. Elected president of the MIA, King's life was in constant danger. His home was bombed, and he and other MIA leaders were threatened, harassed, arrested, and jailed.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In January 1957 approximately 60 black ministers assembled in Atlanta to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to continue the civil rights fight. King was elected president. A few months later he met Vice President Richard Nixon at the celebration of Ghanaian independence in Accra. A year later King and three other black civil rights leaders were received by President Dwight Eisenhower. However, neither meeting resulted in any concrete relief for African Americans who, meanwhile, were growing increasingly restive under continued racial discrimination.
In February 1958 the SCLC sponsored 21 mass meetings in key southern cities as part of a "Crusade for Citizenship." The goal was to double the number of black voters in the South. King was traveling constantly now, speaking for "justice" throughout the country. A year later Dr. and Mrs. King visited India at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. King had long been interested in Mahatma Gandhi's practice of nonviolence. Yet when they returned to the United States, the civil rights struggle had greatly intensified, and violent resistance by whites to the nonviolent efforts of black demonstrators filled the newspapers with accounts of bloody confrontations.
Increasing demands were being made upon King as an advocate of nonviolent change. He moved his family to Atlanta in 1960 and became associate pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ralph Abernathy soon followed, and the two men worked in tandem for the remainder of King's career.
In February 1960 the "sit-in" movement was begun in Greensboro, N.C., by African American students protesting segregation at lunch counters in city stores. The movement quickly spread throughout North Carolina to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The black students were frequently joined by white students and other sympathizers. On April 15 the SCLC called a conference of sit-in leaders to coordinate the movement. King urged the young people to continue using nonviolent means. Out of this meeting the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged. For a time the SNCC worked closely with the SCLC, though ultimately the two groups went their separate ways.
By August a report issued by the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta stated that the sit-ins had succeeded in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities. In October delegates at the SCLC meeting resolved to focus nonviolent campaigns against all segregated public transportation, waiting rooms, and schools. They would increase emphasis on voter registration and would use economic boycotts to gain fair employment and other benefits for African Americans. An important department store in Atlanta, a widely known symbol of segregation, was the first objective. When King and 75 students entered the store and requested lunch-counter service, he and 36 others were arrested. Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce, however, and charges were dropped, but King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic offense conviction. John F. Kennedy, currently campaigning for the presidency, made a dramatic telephone call to Mrs. King. Political wheels were set in motion, and King was released.
In a subsequent move, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), SCLC, and SNCC joined in a coalition. A Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee was formed with King as chairman. The idea was to "put the sit-ins on the road" by having pairs of black and white volunteers board interstate buses traveling through the South to test compliance with a new Federal law forbidding segregated accommodations in bus stations. A great deal of violence resulted, as resisting whites overturned and burned buses, assaulted the Freedom Riders, and attacked newsmen. Many of the arrested riders went to prison rather than pay fines. However, public furor moved the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce nonsegregation laws in buses engaged in interstate transportation and in their servicing terminals.
In December 1961 King and the SCLC were invited by black leaders in Albany, Ga., to lead their civil rights struggle. After 2,000 frustrated African Americans clashed with police, King called for a "day of penitence." King himself was jailed, tried, and given a suspended sentence. In an ambitious voter education program in Albany and the surrounding area, SNCC and SCLC members were harassed by whites. Churches were bombed, and local black citizens were threatened and sometimes attacked. King's nonviolent crusade responded with prayer vigils. It was not until the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act was passed that public facilities in Albany were desegregated.
In May 1962 King was asked to assist in the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Ala., and the SCLC made plans to hold its annual convention there. The Birmingham campaign began with a series of workshops on nonviolence. In early 1963 King made a speaking tour, recruiting volunteers and obtaining money for bail bonds for those arrested in the struggle. On April 3 a manifesto was issued by the black community, and the campaign began in earnest with picketings and sit-ins. On the Friday before Easter, Dr. King was jailed; on Easter Sunday, African Americans appeared at white churches asking to join their fellow Christians in worship. When Dr. King's brother was arrested on his way to the Birmingham jail to pray for King, a near riot resulted.
On May 2 some 6,000 school children marched to demonstrate against school segregation; 959 children were arrested. The next day, as volunteers gathered in a church, police barred the exits, and fire hoses and police dogs were turned on the teen-age demonstrators.
The SCLC's campaign continually met harassment from the Birmingham police. Finally, a period of truce was established, and negotiations began with the city power structure. Though an agreement was reached, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the home of King's brother and the motel where SCLC members were headquartered. Enraged black citizens rioted; Alabama state troopers moved in and set up undeclared martial law. King and SCLC personnel continued to urge nonviolence, and tensions seemed to ease for a time. But more violence erupted when white racists refused to comply with Federal school integration laws. The worst came when a bomb thrown into a black church killed four little girls.
Civil Rights Rally in Washington
The year 1963 was eventful in the struggle for civil rights. In June, King and 125,000 persons marched in a "Freedom Walk" in Detroit. On August 27, over 250,000 black and white citizens assembled in Washington, D.C., for a mass civil rights rally, where King delivered his famous "Let Freedom Ring" address. That same year he was featured as Time magazine's "Man of the Year."
The next year King and his followers moved into St. Augustine, Fla., one of America's most thoroughly segregated cities. After weeks of nonviolent demonstrations and violent counterattacks by whites, a biracial committee was set up to move St. Augustine toward desegregation. A few weeks later the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson.
In September 1964 King and Abernathy went to West Berlin at Mayor Willy Brandt's invitation, where King received an honorary doctorate from the Evangelical Theological College. The two civil rights leaders then went to Rome for an audience with Pope Paul VI. Back in the United States, King endorsed Lyndon Johnson's presidential candidacy. That December, King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965 the SCLC concentrated its efforts in Alabama. The prime target was Selma, where only a handful of black citizens had been permitted to vote. King urged President Johnson to expedite the Voting Rights Bill, and he announced a march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the black people's determination to vote. But Governor George Wallace refused to permit the march, and the 500 persons who gathered to march were beaten by state troopers and "possemen." The march continued anyway, and Selma's black citizens were joined by hundreds of blacks and whites from other states, including many notable churchmen. On March 21 over 10,000 persons followed King from Selma toward Montgomery. Only 300 were allowed to make the 4-day march, but they were joined by another 25,000 in Montgomery for the march to the capital to present a petition to Governor Wallace.
New Issues: Vietnam War
In 1965 King made a "people-to-people" tour of northern cities. But the growing militancy of black people in Watts and Harlem, and even in Mississippi and Alabama, caused Dr. King to reassess the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he had fathered. Although he reaffirmed his commitment to nonviolence, he understood the intense frustration experienced by blacks when their own nonviolent tactics left them open to dangerous violence from the opposition. He was troubled, too, about the American involvement in the war in Vietnam and found himself increasingly pushed toward leadership in antiwar groups.
In 1967 King began speaking directly against the Vietnam War, although many civil rights advocates criticized this. While serving a 4-day sentence in Birmingham stemming from the 1963 demonstrations, King and his brother, Abernathy, and Wyatt Tee Walker began planning a "Poor People's March" to bring together the interests of the poor of all races.
In January 1968 Dr. King and other antiwar leaders called for a Washington rally on February 5/6. He also announced that the Poor People's March would converge in Washington on April 22. Following the February rally, King toured key cities to see firsthand the plight of the poor. Meanwhile, in Memphis, Tenn., black sanitation workers were striking to protest unequal pay and poor working conditions. The protest soon became citywide, with grievances ranging from police brutality to intolerable school conditions. In March, King went to lead the Memphis demonstrations. The march ended in a riot when some frustrated young blacks began breaking windows, looting, and burning stores. Police retaliation was swift and bloody. In Memphis on April 3, King addressed a rally; speaking of threats on his life, he urged followers to continue the nonviolent struggle no matter what happened to him.
The next evening, as King stood on an outside balcony at the Lorraine Hotel, he was struck by a rifle bullet. He was pronounced dead at 7:00 P.M. in a Memphis hospital.
King was a prolific writer. Among his most important works are Stride toward Freedom (1958), Strength to Love (1963), Why We Can't Wait (1964), Where Do We Go from Here (1967), and The Trumpet of Conscience (1968). Collections of his writings include A Martin Luther King Treasury (1964) and I Have a Dream (1968).
Coretta Scott King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969), is his wife's account. Other biographies include Lerone Bennett, Jr., What Manner of Man (1964); William Robert Miller, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968); Charles Eric Lincoln, Martin Luther King (1969); and David L. Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (1970), written by a young black historian. An unfavorable view of King and his work is Lionel Lokos, House Divided: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King (1968). □
"Martin Luther King Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404703562.html
"Martin Luther King Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404703562.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and iconic leader of the U.S. civil rights movement. Famous for advocating nonviolent resistance to racial oppression, he led numerous demonstrations, boycotts, and voter registration drives from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. King was fueled by a strong religious faith, believing that Christian love could function as a powerful agent for social change.
Both his maternal grandfather, A. D. Williams, and his father, Martin Luther King, were Baptist ministers and leaders of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. King carried on the family tradition, becoming an ordained Baptist minister at the age of eighteen. After completing a sociology degree from Morehouse College, a historically black institution in Atlanta, King attended racially integrated Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, graduating as valedictorian of his class in 1951. He then continued his training at Boston University, earning a doctorate in systematic theology in 1955.
It was while immersed in his graduate studies that King first encountered Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. King combined Gandhi’s belief that nonviolence was not only the most ethical but also the most effective form of social protest with his own rigorous training in Christian theology, claiming, “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method” (King 1958, p. 85). Nonviolent protest as King described it was “nonagressive physically but dynamically aggressive spiritually,” seeking the “friendship and understanding” of one’s opponent (King 1957, p. 166).
On June 18, 1953, King married Coretta Scott, then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. The marriage produced four children. In 1954 the couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where King became pastor of the Dexter Street Baptist Church.
Shortly after moving to Montgomery, King was catapulted into the growing civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, local civil rights activist Rosa Parks (1913–2005) was arrested after she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated city bus. The local black community organized a bus boycott to protest Parks’s arrest and elected King as leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, an organization created to support the boycott. Under King’s leadership, the black community responded nonviolently to white intimidation and violence and sustained the boycott for over a year. In 1956 the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on buses unconstitutional. King chronicled his involvement in the boycott in his powerful 1958 memoir Stride toward Freedom.
After the success in Montgomery, King and a group of black ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. King was elected leader of this new organization, which was designed to support various civil rights activities.
The SCLC was not the only civil rights organization operating in the United States at this time, but King and his followers were key players in many of the most memorable showdowns between civil rights activists and the forces of white supremacy. In 1963 the SCLC joined Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth in a campaign to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Defying a court injunction forbidding protest activities, King was arrested on April 12, 1963. While in prison he penned his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” eloquently defending civil disobedience and urging religious leaders to enlist in the struggle for civil rights.
Local Birmingham officials, shamed by national media coverage of police attacking unarmed protestors with fire hoses and police dogs, reluctantly agreed to many of the activists’ demands. However, white resistance did not immediately abate. On September 15, 1963, in a particularly gruesome display of violence, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young African American girls.
The SCLC and other civil rights advocates met similarly mixed results elsewhere, winning concessions but drawing violent reprisals from white supremacists. The SCLC was involved in many demonstrations including campaigns in Albany, Georgia, and Selma, Alabama. The federal government eventually responded to the problem of racial inequality by passing important civil rights legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public facilities and in employment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively put an end to disenfranchisement on the basis of race.
King quickly became the most visible face of the civil rights struggle, capturing media attention wherever he went. On several occasions he met with President John F. Kennedy and later with President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1963 he was named Time magazine’s “man of the year,” and in 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he delivered his sonorous “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most memorable examples of American oratory in the twentieth century.
Due in part to growing resentment over King’s fame, tensions developed between the SCLC and other civil rights organizations. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) focused on fighting white supremacy through litigation rather than through the direct-action campaigns favored by the SCLC, causing tactical disagreements between members of the respective groups. Leaders of all the major civil rights organizations vied with one another and with King for media coverage and for opportunities to shape the direction of the movement. Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, was no exception. After NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers’s death by assassination on June 11, 1963, Wilkins became resentful of King’s efforts to raise funds in honor of the slain man, demanding instead that memorial contributions be sent exclusively to the NAACP. Despite these pressures, King remained an ardent supporter of Wilkins and of the venerable civil rights organization he represented.
Similarly, many members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) offered powerful critiques of King. Some resented the media’s depiction of King as the predominant leader of the movement, referring to King in jest as “De Lawd.” Weary of being jailed and beaten, many young activists grew increasingly skeptical of King’s dedication to nonviolent resistance. Others began to embrace black nationalism rather than King’s integrationist vision for the United States. King remained receptive to criticism, and these profound disagreements did not stand in the way of warm, personal relationships between King and many SNCC members, including Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998), the radical black nationalist who was elected to the chairmanship of SNCC in 1966.
Malcolm X (1925–1965), the charismatic minister of the Nation of Islam and later, founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, was critical of nonviolent resistance, a tactic he regarded as cowardly. Malcolm was particularly outspoken in his criticisms of King, labeling him a “traitor to the Negro people.” King was stung by Malcolm’s condemnation, but the pair shared a well-publicized handshake on Capitol Hill on March 26, 1964. Although he continued to repudiate nonviolent resistance, Malcolm later sought ways to cooperate with King and other civil rights leaders. However, King rebuffed Malcolm’s efforts, certain that his fiery rhetoric and failure to embrace nonviolence would “reap nothing but grief.”
King was also a prominent target of the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972). Hoover used wiretaps, spread false rumors, and planted infiltrators in an attempt to disrupt the movement and to tarnish the reputation of King and other leaders.
Throughout his life, King remained committed to the principal of nonviolent resistance, but his thinking did not become static. He listened thoughtfully to criticism and responded to the changing times. In 1965 he expanded the scope of his activism by speaking out against the Vietnam War. Increasingly, King began to focus on class issues, seeking ways to improve the lives of the underprivileged, regardless of race. In 1967 the SCLC began planning a Poor People’s Campaign designed to protest economic inequality through nonviolent direct action.
In 1968 King’s struggle for economic justice brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking sanitation workers. While there he gave what was to be his final address, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The recipient of frequent death threats, King long knew that his civil rights activism might cost him his life. That night he prophetically told his audience, “I might not get there with you … [but] we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” The next day, April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony outside his hotel room, King was shot and killed by a sniper.
White supremacist James Earl Ray (1928–1998) was arrested for King’s murder. In order to avoid the death penalty, Ray made a plea bargain and confessed to the killing. However, Ray almost immediately recanted his confession, claiming that he was framed. In 1997 Ray convinced King’s son Dexter Scott King of his innocence, but Tennessee authorities refused to grant Ray, who died in prison in 1998, a new trial. King’s death has been the subject of many conspiracy theories, some involving the federal government in the plot to kill King.
Today King’s vision of interracial harmony has gained widespread acceptance among many Americans. However, his radical critique of economic inequality in the United States is less widely remembered. In 1983 Congress voted to establish a national holiday in his honor, enshrining King among the nation’s pantheon of heroes.
Branch, Taylor. 1988. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Branch, Taylor. 1998. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963–65. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Branch, Taylor. 2006. At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–68. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Burns, Stewart. 2004. To the Mountaintop: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Sacred Mission to Save America, 1955–1968. New York: HarperCollins.
Carson, Clayborne. 1998. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Warner Books.
Garrow, David. 1986. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Marrow.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1957. Nonviolence and Racial Justice. Christian Century, February 6: 165–167.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1958. Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper and Row.
Jennifer Jensen Wallach
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301257.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301257.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, JR.
For thirteen turbulent years, Martin Luther King Jr. was the inspirational leader and moral arbiter of the U.S. civil rights movement. An advocate of nonviolence, King helped organize well-publicized boycotts, marches, and demonstrations to protest segregation and racial injustice. From 1955 to 1968, he was the impassioned voice of African Americans who sought the abolishment of jim crow laws (a series of regulations enacted to keep the races separate) and the guarantee of equal housing, education, voting rights, and employment. Although countless U.S. citizens contributed to the success of the civil rights movement, King is its most enduring symbol. Before his mission was cut short by an assassin's bullet in 1968, he succeeded in permanently raising the social, economic, and political status of all people of color.
King was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. At an early age, he demonstrated the intellect and drive that would propel him to national prominence. After skipping his senior year of high school, he enrolled in Atlanta's Morehouse College, at the age of fifteen. He earned a degree in sociology from Morehouse in 1948. Since both his father and grandfather were Baptist preachers, it was not surprising when King entered Crozer Theological Seminary, in suburban Philadelphia, at age nineteen. After graduating from Crozer as class valedictorian, King enrolled in Boston University's renowned School of Theology, where he earned a doctor's degree in 1955. While in Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott, a student at the Boston Conservatory.
The young couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954, after King accepted a position as minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He was only twenty-six years old and had lived in Montgomery for just eighteen months when an African–American bus rider changed the course of his life forever.
On December 1, 1955, seamstress rosa parks took a personal stand against the South's Jim Crow laws when she refused to give up her seat to a white person and move to the back of a city bus. In Montgomery, segregated seating on buses was mandated by ordinance. Parks's
defiant act galvanized the city's African–American community. A bus boycott was organized to support Parks after her arrest and to put an end to segregated public transportation. When the Montgomery Improvement Association was created to direct the protest, a somewhat surprised King was named president. Years later, those involved in the boycott explained that King was selected because of his powerful speaking style, his credibility as a clergyman, and his relatively low profile in Montgomery. Because King was a newcomer, he had not made any enemies within the African American community and had not been corrupted by dishonest white politicians.
With leadership thrust upon him, King took over the boycott. He rose to the challenge, creating peaceful strategies that placed the bus company in an economic squeeze and African Americans on the moral high ground. He was greatly influenced by Mohandas K. ("Mahatma") Gandhi's nonviolence movement in India. King denounced violence throughout the citywide boycott, only to encounter death threats, hate mail, physical attacks, mass arrests, and the bombing of his church and home. The possibility of death was constant, but King used his deep religious faith and inner strength to stare down fear. He told his followers, "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you…. Remember, if I am stopped, this Movement will not stop, because God is with this Movement."
By November 1956, the boycott had taken the intended financial toll on the transit company. Seventy percent of Montgomery's bus riders were African Americans, and they supported the boycott in droves. The campaign was declared a success when the buses were at last desegregated in December 1956 and Montgomery's ordinance was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court (Owen v. Browder, 352 U.S. 903, 77 S. Ct. 145, 1 L. Ed. 2d 114 ). More important, King and his fellow African Americans discovered the power of social protest and the virtue of nonviolence.
After Montgomery, King knew that his true calling was social activism. In 1957, he helped found the southern christian leadership conference, an organization that would guide the growing civil rights movement. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, King took part in dozens of demonstrations throughout the South and was arrested and jailed for his civil disobedience. The national media and the administrations of Presidents dwight d. eisenhower and john f. kennedy took notice. King became the torchbearer for the nation's civil rights struggle.
In 1963, King and his fellow activists set out to integrate Birmingham, Alabama, which King called "the most thoroughly segregated city in the country." Unlike Montgomery, where the issue was limited to bus ridership, Birmingham offered a forum for far-reaching objectives. King's goal was to desegregate the entire community—its restaurants, hotels, department stores, rest rooms, and public facilities. As the sit-ins and marches began, the response by some white southerners was ugly. Extremists bombed an African–American church, killing four young girls who were attending Sunday School inside. Police commissioner Eugene ("Bull") Connor ordered his officers to use high-pressure water hoses, police dogs, and clubs against the nonviolent demonstrators. Grade school and high school protesters were jailed alongside adults, and at one point, three thousand African Americans were incarcerated in Birmingham. King himself was jailed and as a result wrote his historic 1963 essay Letter from Birmingham City Jail, an eloquent justification of nonviolent resistance to unjust laws. Throughout the saga, television cameras sent searing images of white brutality across the nation. As King hoped, federal intervention was required to handle the situation, and segregation laws were forced off the books.
Perhaps the crowning moment of King's career was the 1963 March on Washington, when 250,000 people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds converged in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Here, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which described a world of racial equality and harmony. The speech ended with these stirring words:
"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for men to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence."
King was successful in pressuring the U.S. Congress and President lyndon b. johnson to support the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.). The law guaranteed equal access for all U.S. citizens to public accommodations and facilities, employment, and education. In 1965, King's campaign in Selma, Alabama, helped ensure the passage of the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.), which extended the vote to previously disenfranchised African Americans in the Deep South. The act outlawed the tests, standards, and procedures that were routinely used to disqualify voters on the basis of race.
King received several honors for his work, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The same year, he was the first African American to be named Time magazine's Man of the Year. Since 1986, the third Monday in January has been observed as a federal holiday in honor of King's birthday.
The last years of King's life were difficult, as he struggled with bouts of depression over personal and professional failures. His hold on the civil rights movement was clearly weakening. Young African–American activists were demanding a more militant approach to achieving social and economic justice. The angrier black power movement appealed to increasing numbers of African Americans who were impatient with the slow pace of King's nonviolent tactics. King's campaigns in northern cities such as Chicago were largely unsuccessful.
On August 11, 1965, just days after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the African American Watts area of Los Angeles erupted into a riot that lasted six days. Thirty-four people were killed, and $30 million worth of property was damaged. After the upheaval in Watts, King's message and influence were diminished.
In 1967, King publicly criticized the United States' involvement in Vietnam and earned the enmity of his former liberal ally President Johnson. Critics believed that King's entry into the peace movement diluted his efforts to achieve further gains for African Americans.
In the spring of 1968, King planned to participate in the Poor People's Campaign, in Washington, D.C. Before going to the nation's capital, he traveled to Memphis to support striking garbage workers there. On April 4, while standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white man.
According to those who knew him, King did not set out to become a martyr for civil rights. As ella j. baker, a longtime activist, said, "The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement." King represents the dignity of the struggle and the sacrifice it required. Despite a tendency to deify King, he should be regarded not as a saint but as an extraordinary individual who used his prodigious talents to change society. When asked to describe his possible legacy, King himself said, "I just want to leave a committed life behind."
Abernathy, Donzaleigh. 2002. Partners to History: Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Crown Publishers.
Cook, Anthony E. 1997. The Least of These: Race, Law, and Religion in American Culture. New York: Routledge.
DeBenedetti, Charles. 1986. Peace Heroes in Twentieth-Century America. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press.
Garrow, David J. 1986. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow.
Lawry, Robert P. 2002. "Ethics in the Shadow of the Law: The Political Obligation of a Citizen." Case Western Reserve Law Review 52 (spring): 655–720.
Miroff, Bruce. 1993. Icons of Democracy: American Leaders as Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters, and Democrats. New York: HarperCollins.
Oates, Stephen B. 1982. Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
Black Panther Party; Carmichael, Stokely; Cleaver, LeRoy Eldridge; Davis, Angela Yvonne; Evers, Medgar Wiley; Jackson, Jesse; Ku Klux Klan; "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" (Appendix, Primary Document); Liuzzo, Viola Fauver Gregg; Malcolm X; Marshall, Thurgood; Meredith, James Howard; NAACP; Randolph, A. Philip; Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; Wilkins, Roy.
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702549.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702549.html
King Jr., Martin Luther
The minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) originated the use of nonviolent methods within the civil rights movement. He was one of the most important African American leaders of his time.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Atlanta public schools and then went on to Morehouse College. After graduation from Morehouse in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary and graduated in 1951. He then received his doctorate (an advanced degree) in theology (the study of religion) from Boston University in 1955.
In Boston King met Coretta Scott, whom he married on June 18, 1953. Four children were born to the couple. In 1954, King became minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In Montgomery, he became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Alabama Council on Human Relations.
Nonviolence: the bus boycott
In December 1955, Rosa Parks (1913–), a black woman, was arrested for violating a segregated seating ordinance (a law enforcing separation between African American and white people) on a public bus in Montgomery. Black citizens were outraged. At the time, many public places, including buses, were segregated. King, along with fellow activists, urged African Americans to boycott the segregated city buses. (In a boycott people refuse to use products and services provided by people, businesses, or organizations until policies and procedures are changed.) From this boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed. The bus boycott lasted more than a year. Finally, the bus company agreed to the protesters demands and ended segregated seating. The U.S. Supreme Court later stated that the bus segregation laws of Montgomery were unconstitutional, or went against the laws of the Constitution.
Overnight, Martin Luther King had become a national hero as a leader in the civil rights struggle. The victory had not been easy. As an elected president of the MIA, King's life was in constant danger. His home was bombed, and he and other MIA leaders were constantly threatened, arrested, and jailed.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In January 1957 approximately sixty black ministers assembled in Atlanta to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to continue the civil rights fight. King was elected president. In February 1958 the SCLC sponsored twenty-one mass meetings in southern cities as part of a "Crusade for Citizenship." The goal was to double the number of black voters in the South. King was now traveling constantly, speaking for "justice" throughout the country.
A year later the Kings visited India at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964). King had long been interested in nonviolence as practiced by Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948). Yet, when they returned to the United States, the civil rights struggle had become much more intense. Violent resistance by whites to the nonviolent efforts of black demonstrators filled the newspapers with stories of bloody fights.
In February 1960 the "sit-in" movement started in Greensboro, North Carolina. African American students began this nonviolent form of protest by sitting at "white only" lunch counters in city stores. The movement quickly spread throughout much of the South. On April 15, 1960, the SCLC called a meeting of sit-in leaders to organize the movement. King urged the young people to continue using nonviolent means. Out of this meeting the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged.
By August 1960 the sit-ins had succeeded in ending segregation at lunch counters in twenty-seven southern cities. In October 1960 the SCLC decided to increase their efforts to get African Americans registered to vote, use boycotts to gain fair employment, and work to end segregation in public places.
A popular department store in Atlanta, widely known for its policy of segregation, was the first goal in this renewed effort. When King and seventy-five students entered the store and requested lunch-counter service, he and thirty-six others were arrested. However, Atlanta's mayor worked out a truce and charges were dropped. But King was imprisoned for breaking the terms of his court supervision that resulted from a traffic offense conviction. John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), who at the time was campaigning for the presidency, made a telephone call to Mrs. King, and then worked to get King released.
Soon the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), SCLC, and SNCC joined together to form the Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee with King as chairman. The idea was to "put the sit-ins on the road" by having pairs of black and white volunteers board interstate buses traveling through the South. This would test a new federal law forbidding segregated bus stations. A great deal of violence resulted as resisting whites overturned and burned buses, assaulted the Freedom Riders, and attacked newsmen. Many of the arrested riders chose prison rather than pay fines. However, the protest worked, forcing the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce laws against segregation.
The movement heats up
On May 2, 1963, some six thousand school children marched to demonstrate against school segregation. The next day, as volunteers gathered in a church, police blocked the exits, and turned fire hoses and police dogs on the teenage demonstrators.
Finally, there was a truce between the civil rights groups and the police. Then, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK; a group that believes the white race is better than all other races) bombed the home of King's brother and the motel where SCLC members were headquartered. Enraged black citizens rioted and Alabama state troopers moved in and set up undeclared martial law, or temporary rule by the military. King and SCLC personnel continued to urge nonviolence but more violence erupted when white racists refused to obey federal school integration laws. The worst came when a bomb thrown into an African American church killed four little girls.
"Let Freedom Ring"
The year 1963 continued to be eventful in the struggle for civil rights. In June King led 125,000 people on a "Freedom Walk" in Detroit, Michigan. On August 27, more than 250,000 black and white citizens gathered in Washington, D.C. for a mass civil rights rally. There, King delivered his famous "Let Freedom Ring" address. That same year he was featured as Time magazine's "Man of the Year."
In 1964 King and his followers moved on to St. Augustine, Florida, one of America's most segregated cities. After weeks of nonviolent demonstrations and violent counterattacks by whites, a committee was set up to move St. Augustine toward desegregation. A few weeks later, the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, which made discrimination (unequal treatment) based on race illegal, was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973). In December 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965 the SCLC concentrated its efforts in Alabama. The first target was Selma, where only a handful of black citizens had been allowed to vote. King urged President Johnson to rush the Voting Rights Act and announced a march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the black people's determination to vote. (The Voting Rights Act, which was passed on August 10, 1965, made it illegal for Southern states to prevent African Americans from voting and registering to vote.) Alabama Governor George Wallace (1919–1998) refused to permit the march, and the five hundred people who gathered to march were beaten by state troopers.
Nonetheless, the march continued, and Selma's black citizens were joined by hundreds of black and white protesters from other states. On March 21, 1965, more than ten thousand people followed King from Selma toward Montgomery. Only three hundred were allowed to make the full four-day march, but they were joined by another twenty-five thousand in Montgomery for the final leg to the Capitol to present a petition (a written demand) to Governor Wallace.
New issues: Vietnam War
In 1965 King made a "people-to-people" tour of northern cities. A growing number of black people were becoming aggressive in the struggle for their rights. Their position caused King to take another look at the nonviolent civil rights movement that he had fathered. Although committed to nonviolence and civil rights, he was also troubled about the American involvement in the Vietnam War (1965–73; a war in Vietnam in which American forces supported South Vietnam in their fight against Communist North Vietnam). He soon found himself pushed toward leadership in antiwar groups.
In 1967 King began speaking directly against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, although many civil rights advocates criticized this position. Around this time, while serving a four-day sentence in Birmingham, which was a result of the 1963 demonstrations, that King and other activists began planning a "Poor People's March." The march was to be held in Washingon, D.C. on April 22, 1968, to bring together the interests of the poor of all races.
Death to a dream
In February 1968 King led an antiwar rally in Washington, D.C. In March, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to lead demonstrations against a wide range of complaints, including police brutality and poor school conditions. The march ended in a riot when some frustrated young African Americans began breaking windows, looting, and burning stores. The police reacted quickly and violently.
In Memphis on April 3, 1968, King addressed a rally. Speaking of threats on his life, he urged followers to continue the nonviolent struggle no matter what happened to him. The next evening, as King stood on an outside balcony at the Lorraine Motel, he was struck by a rifle bullet. He died a few hours later.
A monument to King
In December 1999, a four-acre site near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was approved as the location for a monument to King. The site is near the place where King delivered his "I have a dream" speech in 1963. In September 2000, a design was selected. The monument will be the first to honor an individual African American in the National Mall area.
For More Information
Fairclough, Adam. Martin Luther King, Jr. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Frady, Marshall. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Penguin Group, 2002.
King, Coretta Scott. My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
King, Coretta Scott, ed. The Words of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Newmarket Press, 1983.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson. New York: Intellectual Properties Management, 1998.
Millender, Dharathula H. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Young Man with a Dream. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1983.
"King Jr., Martin Luther." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500458.html
"King Jr., Martin Luther." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500458.html
King, Martin Luther, Assassination
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, ASSASSINATION
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, ASSASSINATION. At 6:01 p.m. on Thursday, 4 April 1968 a fatal rifle shot hit Martin Luther King Jr. as he stood on a balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader had arrived in Memphis the previous day to prepare for a march planned for the following Monday on behalf of the city's striking sanitation workers. Late in the afternoon of the fourth, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Executive Director Andrew Young and attorney Chauncey Eskridge returned to the Lorraine to report on their successful effort to convince District Judge Bailey Brown to lift his antiprotest restraining order that was prompted by violence which disrupted a march a week earlier. Pleased that he would be able to proceed with the planned march, King was preparing to leave for a dinner at the home of Memphis minister Billy Kyles when he stepped out on the balcony of room 306. As King talked with SCLC colleagues standing in the parking area below, an assassin fired a single shot severely wounding the lower right side of King's face. As Ralph Abernathy cradled King's head, other SCLC aides rushed toward him. Some of those on the balcony pointed across the street toward the rear of a boarding house on South Main Street. An ambulance rushed King to St. Joseph's Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead at 7:05 p.m.
News of King's assassination prompted outbreaks of racial violence, resulting in forty-six deaths and extensive property damage in dozens of American cities, including Washington, D.C. President Lyndon Johnson attended a memorial for King on the fifth and called for a national day of mourning to be observed two days later. A march was held in Memphis on the eighth to honor King and to support the sanitation workers. The march attracted thousands of participants, including King's widow and other family members. King's funeral, attended by many of the nation's political and civil rights leaders, occurred the following day in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as co-pastor along with his father, Martin Luther King Sr., and his brother, A. D. King. Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays delivered the eulogy. After another ceremony on the Morehouse campus, King's body was interred at Southview Cemetery;
it was later moved to a crypt at the site of the King Center, an institution founded by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, located next to Ebenezer Church.
Search for the Assassin
Within minutes of the assassination, a policeman who had rushed to the area discovered a bundle containing a 30.06 Remington rifle in the doorway of the Canipe Amusement Company, located on South Main next door to the boarding house. Based on its serial number, investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigations determined that the weapon had been purchased at Aeromarine Supply Company in Birmingham, Alabama, by a person using the name Harvey Lowmeyer. FBI agents learned that the Ford Mustang found on 10 April abandoned in Atlanta was registered to Eric Starvo Galt and subsequent handwriting analysis indicated that Galt and Lowmeyer were the same person. These discoveries led FBI agents to an apartment in Atlanta, where they found a thumbprint matching that of James Earl Ray, a fugitive who had escaped from a Missouri prison in April 1967. FBI agents and police in Memphis produced further evidence that Ray had registered on 4 April at the South Main rooming house under the alias John Willard and had taken a second-floor room near a common bathroom with a view of the Lorraine Motel.
The identification of Ray as a suspect led to an international search. After examining passport application photographs, Canadian officials found that a passport had been issued on 24 April to a person using the name Ramon George Sneyd, who resembled Ray and whose handwriting matched samples of Ray's. They also determined that the person using the passport had left Canada for London. On 8 June British immigration officials on the alert for Ray detained him while he prepared to board a flight to Brussels (Ray later explained that his ultimate destination was the white-ruled nation of Rhodesia [later Zimbabwe]). On 18 July Ray arrived in the United States after being extradited to stand trial.
Prosecution of James Earl Ray
In a plea bargain, Tennessee prosecutors agreed in March 1969 to forgo seeking the death penalty if Ray pled guilty to murder charges. The circumstances leading to this decision later became a source of controversy, because Ray recanted his confession soon after being sentenced to a ninety-nine-year term in prison and claimed that his attorney, Percy Foreman, had provided inadequate representation due to his fear that lucrative arrangements to publish Ray's story would be compromised if the defendant testified in open court. Ray fired Foreman, but he was unsuccessful in his subsequent attempts to reverse his conviction and gain a new trial.
During the years following King's assassination, doubts about the adequacy of the case against Ray were fueled by revelations of extensive surveillance of King by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government agencies. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal that ended Richard Nixon's presidency, congressional investigations of illegal FBI activities during the 1960s prompted calls for a reopening of the assassination investigation. Frame-Up (1971) by Harold Weisberg and Code Name "Zorro" (1977) by Mark Lane (Ray's lawyer during the late 1970s) and Dick Gregory raised questions about the evidence against Ray. In 1976 the House Select Committee on Assassinations launched a re-examination of the evidence concerning King's assassination as well as that of President John F. Kennedy. The committee's final report, released by Chairman Louis Stokes (Democrat, Ohio) in January 1979, suggested that Ray may have been motivated by a reward offered by two St. Louis businessmen and may have had coconspirators, possibly his brothers, John and Jerry Ray. Despite detailing the FBI's activities targeting King, the report nonetheless concluded that there was no convincing evidence of government complicity in the assassination. Rather than ending conspiracy speculation, the report and twelve volumes of evidence assembled during the House investigation provided a wealth of information that would continue to fuel speculation.
After recanting his guilty plea, Ray consistently maintained his innocence. In his 1992 memoir, he claimed to have been framed by a gun smuggler he knew as Raoul (sometimes spelled Raul). In 1993 William F. Pepper, who had become Ray's lawyer, sought to build popular support for a reopening of the case by staging a televised mock trial of Ray (the "jury" found Ray not guilty). Pepper later published Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King (1995), which cast suspicion on the FBI, local police, a local businessman allegedly linked to the Mafia, and military intelligence personnel assigned to Memphis at the time of the assassination. In 1997 members of King's family publicly supported Ray's appeal for a new trial, and King's son, Dexter Scott King, proclaimed Ray's innocence during a televised prison encounter. Despite this support, Tennessee authorities refused to reopen the case, and Ray died in prison on 23 April 1998.
Even after Ray's death, conspiracy allegations continued to surface. Despite several attempts, test bullets fired from the rifle linked to Ray were never conclusively matched to the slug removed from King's body. In March 1998, retired FBI investigator Donald Wilson claimed he had found pieces of paper in Ray's car with the name "Raul" on them. In 1999 Pepper won a token civil verdict on behalf of King's widow and children against Lloyd Jowers, owner of the Jim's Grill on the rooming house's ground floor, "and other unknown co-conspirators." Jowers had stated during a 1993 during an appearance on ABC-TV's Prime Time Live that he was given $100,000 to arrange King's murder. Although the trial produced considerable testimony that contradicted the original case against Ray, the Justice Department announced in 2000 that its own internal investigation, launched in 1998 at the King family's request, had failed to find sufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation. In April 2002, at a news conference in Gainesville, Florida, the Reverend Ronald Denton Wilson announced that his deceased fervently anticommunist father, Henry Clay Wilson, had spoken of killing King with the aid of two other conspirators after Ray supplied the weapon, but this claim was also met with widespread skepticism.
Pepper, William F. Orders to Kill: The Truth behind the Murder of Martin Luther King. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Posner, Gerald L. Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Random House, 1998.
Ray, James Earl. Who Killed Martin Luther King, Jr.? The True Story by the Alleged Assassin. 2d ed., New York: Marlowe and Company, 1997.
United States Department of Justice. Investigation of Recent Allegations Regarding the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, June 2000.
"King, Martin Luther, Assassination." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401802253.html
"King, Martin Luther, Assassination." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401802253.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, JR.
During the last half of the twentieth century in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) emerged as the major leader of the modern civil rights movement. He organized large numbers of African Americans in the 1960s to aggressively pursue non-violent civil disobedience in pursuit of racial justice and economic equality. Until his assassination in 1968, King remained a steadfast leader committed to the radical transformation of society through persistent, non-violent activism.
In 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Michael and Alberta King. King was born into a family with deep ties to the African American church. His father was a Baptist minister in Atlanta. King's maternal grandfather, Reverend Adam Williams, had served as the pastor of The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta since 1894.
King grew up during the Great Depression, a direct witness not only to racism in the South but to bread lines and social injustice. These experiences heightened his awareness of economic inequalities. He watched his father campaign against racial discrimination in voting and in salary differences between white and African-American teachers. His father's activism provided a model for King's own politically engaged ministry.
King attended Morehouse College from 1944 to 1948. The president of Morehouse, Benjamin E. Mays, strongly influenced King's spiritual development by encouraging him to view Christianity as a potential force for social change in the secular world. King struggled with mixed feelings about religion during his college years, but decided to enter the ministry after graduation, responding to what he called an "inner urge" calling him "to serve God and community." He was ordained during his final semester at Morehouse. King later continued his religious education at Boston University's School of Theology; where he completed a doctorate in theology in 1955.
Accepting a 1954 offer to become pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, King quickly came into contact with the many problems of the modern South. In December 1955, Montgomery African American leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to protest the arrest of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member Rosa Parks (1913–) for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. They chose King to head the new group.
During a year-long boycott African Americans in Montgomery avoided using the bus system. In his role as spokesman, King utilized the leadership abilities gained from his religious background and forged a distinctive protest strategy involving the mobilization of African American churches and skillful appeals for broad-based public support. In his organizing, King began to use the precepts of East Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, combining Gandhi's non-violence with Christian principles.
After the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in 1956, King's victory spurred him on to expanding the non-violent civil rights movement. In 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to coordinate civil rights activities throughout the South.
By the time he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1960, King was known nationwide for his book on civil rights advocacy, Stride Toward Freedom, and through his work to increase African American voting registration in the South. He also worked with a student-oriented group of civil-rights workers known as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in an effort to desegregate restaurants in the South with a series of non-violent sit-ins.
In 1963 King was part of the civil rights struggle in the Birmingham, Alabama, campaign. These demonstrations called for a variety of changes in the treatment of African Americans and resulted in King's arrest and brief imprisonment. The arrest brought international attention to him and to the civil rights movement. King spoke bravely and intelligently in speeches that invoked Biblical and Constitutional principles. His activities caught the attention of President John F. Kennedy (1961–1963), who introduced significant civil rights legislation.
That same year, in front of 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., King delivered a speech, known today as the "I Have A Dream" speech. It marked a high point in King's crusade and served as an inspiration for civil rights supporters. Televised throughout the world, his speech electrified those who heard those words and saw the thousands who had marched on Washington in support of the civil rights movement.
Largely for his advocacy and his use of non-violent social activism in the United States in pursuit of justice for racial and economic minorities, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. During the late 1960s, he remained a voice of moderation in an increasingly diverse and militant African American movement. The civil rights campaign of the early 1960s became a militant mass movement later in the decade, seeking economic and political gains in the workplace.
King continued to leave his mark on the social protest movements that arose throughout the 1960s. Women's groups formed and used non-violent militancy to achieve progress in what came to be called the modern feminist movement of the 1970s. Social and economic injustices throughout the country were being addressed with King's civil disobedience tactics. The American Indian Movement (AIM) became re-activated, as did the labor organizing movement of American Hispanics involved in migratory labor disputes.
On April 4, 1968, while King was working with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, he was assassinated by a white segregationist, James Earl Ray. King's kindling of social activism if ordinary citizens during the mid-twentieth century greatly affected civil rights in the United States, as well as the working conditions of nearly all minorities who were seeking equality and social justice. His legacy is perhaps best illustrated by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
martin luther king, jr., "i have a dream" speech, august 28, 1963
See also: Civil Rights Movement
Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963–65. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Fisher, William H. Free at Last: A Bibliography of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.
Reddick, Lawrence D. Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.. New York: Harper, 1959.
Washington, James M., ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986.
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406400496.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 1999. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406400496.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, JR. 1929-1968
Civil rights leader
Symbol and Leader
Martin Luther King, Jr., became the symbol of the civil rights movement after leading the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-1956), which attracted the nation's attention to the growing dissatisfaction of southern blacks with the system of legal segregation. Along with a group of black Baptist preachers he helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and in his books and sermons he laid the foundation of nonviolent direct action as a way of securing for southern blacks their rights guaranteed in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
When the SCLC joined the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, King's presence attracted the television and news cameras which recorded the shocking violence of the police toward the demonstrators, including children. Those displays of racism aroused the nation and forced the Kennedy administration to introduce a civil rights bill that became the Public Accommodations Act of 1964.
While King was in jail in violation of an injunction to halt the demonstrations, eight of Birmingham's leading Protestant ministers published a letter asking him why violence erupted from the tension his demonstrations caused even though he insisted his was a doctrine of nonviolence. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is one of his most eloquent statements of the moral and religious basis for the civil rights movement.
He said the purpose of the campaign in Birmingham was to confront the sin of racial discrimination. The ongoing confrontations between the marchers and the police came from the failure of the white establishment to negotiate, not from the demands of the black community to modify the immoral segregated system. Only raising the tensions to an intolerable level would finally lead to a resolution of the racial injustice in the community. King denied that he advocated breaking laws, but "an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and then willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community …is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." He then expressed his great disappointment that the white church had failed to respond to the moral issue of racial discrimination and, by its silence, sanctioned the status quo, including such actions as Birmingham's efforts to maintain an unjust system.
March on Washington
King's closing speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, in which he said that he had a dream that America would finally live up to its values and all citizens would be able to join in the words of the spiritual "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" has become one of America's most famous speeches. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1965 King and the SCLC joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Selma, Alabama, campaign to secure the voting rights of blacks in Alabama. As in the case of Birmingham, the success of Selma came from the news media's attention, resulting in large part from King's presence. The publicity given the violence directed at the demonstrators secured their right to march to Montgomery and, more importantly, public support for what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King's greatest victories were over.
Racism and Poverty
As it became clear that Jim Crow laws were systematically being repealed, King turned his attention to the problems of racism in general and of poverty. His attempts to open jobs and housing in Chicago had limited success. His growing opposition to the American role in the Vietnam War peeled away support from the embattled Johnson administration. An upsurge of black radicalism and black nationalism among young, urban blacks shifted their sympathies from nonviolent direct action to black power. Race riots in cities reflected the growing impatience of urban blacks with their situation and weakened white support for more social reform.
Poor People's March
With his influence declining, in 1968 King began plans for another march on Washington, the Poor People's March, that would show that poverty was not solely a black issue. In April he went to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, and he was assassinated there on 4 April. The riots that erupted in over 130 cities and towns around the country were more a cry of despair than a tribute to the man who had come to represent the civil rights struggle. The Poor People's March took place to no effect. His death was the closing of a movement and an era.
David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Morrow, 1986).
"King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968." American Decades. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468302469.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968." American Decades. 2001. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468302469.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955). The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King became (1954) minister of the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. He led the black boycott (1955–56) of segregated city bus lines and in 1956 gained a major victory and prestige as a civil-rights leader when Montgomery buses began to operate on a desegregated basis.
See biographies by K. L. Smith and I. G. Zepp, Jr. (1974), S. Oates (1982), M. Frady (2001), and D. L. Lewis (3d ed. 2012); D. J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross (1986); M. E. Dyson, I May Not Get There with You (2000); S. Burns, To the Mountaintop (2004); F. Sunnemark, Ring Out Freedom! (2004); T. Branch, America in the King Years (3 vol., 1988–2006).
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-King-Mar.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-King-Mar.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968
KING, MARTIN LUTHER, JR. 1929-1968
Minister and civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr., first attracted national attention as the president of the Montgomery Improvement Agency, which successfully conducted a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1955 to 1956. This role began when, as the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he was elected president of the ad hoc group organized in December 1955 to coordinate a one-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system to protest the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Parks had violated a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat for a white man.
Success of the Boycott
The success of the one-day boycott was such that it was continued for over a year as blacks refused to ride the buses until the Jim Crow restrictions were lifted. In time the bus company went into bankruptcy, and the city ordinance segregating blacks was struck down as unconstitutional. On 20 December 1956 King was one of the first to board the bus when the Montgomery bus company allowed its riders to occupy seats of their choice.
King, who was completing his Ph.D. at Boston University during this time, solidified his support in the black community of Montgomery and gained national attention when his house was bombed 30 January 1956. The threat to the lives of his wife and small children garnered much sympathy. His appeal for calm and his insistence that the boycotters would face their opponents with Christian love gave a special character to the demonstration and the southern civil rights movement that followed. King was noted for his adoption of the Gandhian strategy of nonviolence, in which protesters rejected violence as a means of political and social change.
In 1957 King joined a group of Baptist ministers in forming what became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was elected the first president of what became one of the leading civil rights organizations. His leadership helped form the nonviolent character of much of the civil rights movement. As the leader of the SCLC, King made 208 speeches and traveled more than 780,000 miles during 1957.
Influence of India
In 1958 King published Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, his first book. At a book signing in Harlem King was nearly killed when a deranged woman stabbed him in the chest. King's reaction was to see this act of violence as a product of "the climate of hate and bitterness" that permeated the Linked States. In 1959 King traveled to India to visit the land of Gandhi. He spent the rest of the year demonstrating against segregation.
Effect on Religious Leaders
The religious content of the civil rights movement, due in large part to the influence of King, helped develop the social conscience of American churches. Many U.S. religious leaders and preachers came of age during the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, and King's influence on them was hard to underestimate.
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954—1963 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988);
David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Morrow, 1986),
"King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968." American Decades. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468302064.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1929-1968." American Decades. 2001. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468302064.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929–1968), religious and protest leader and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace.King gained national prominence as a black civil rights leader and, during his final years, as a critic of American military involvement in Vietnam. In his memoir, Stride Toward Freedom (1958), King recalled that when initially exposed to pacifism, he concluded that war “could serve as a negative good in the sense of preventing the spread and growth of an evil force.” Only after becoming familiar with Gandhian notions of nonviolent resistance was he convinced that “the love ethic of Jesus” could be “a potent instrument for social and collective transformation.” As the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King became a nationally known advocate of civil disobedience. He led protest movements in Montgomery (1955–56), Birmingham (1963), and Selma (1965), Alabama, that demonstrated the effectiveness of nonviolent tactics in spurring passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Although King was reluctant to risk his prestige as a civil rights leader by opposing the Vietnam War, he eventually publicly criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson's war policies as immoral and a harmful diversion of funds from antipoverty programs. On 4 April 1967, in his first major public statement against the war, King explained at New York's Riverside Church that “if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” King's advocacy of conscientious objection to military service and his call for a unilateral cease‐fire in Vietnam hurt his popularity and ability to influence domestic policies; nonetheless he remained an internationally recognized advocate of world peace and militant nonviolence until his assassination on 4 April 1968.
[See also Civil Liberties and War; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Vietnam Antiwar Movement.]
James M. Washington, ed., The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1986.
John Whiteclay Chambers II. "King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-KingMartinLutherJr.html
John Whiteclay Chambers II. "King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-KingMartinLutherJr.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929–68). American Baptist minister and leader of the civil rights movement. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and attended Moorhouse College and Crozier Theological Seminary where he was in search of a theology commensurate with his understanding of society through sociology. He gained a Ph.D. at Boston University School of Theology, where he became acquainted with the writings of Gāndhī. In 1954 he became pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he became involved in the boycott of the city's segregated buses, taking leadership of the campaign. In 1955, such segregation was declared unconstitutional. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to draw together campaigns against discrimination, emphasizing non-violence. Somewhat disappointed at the general apathy, he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963, when he was arrested during the massive demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama.
King's campaigns culminated in the Washington march in 1963 and in his address, ‘I have a dream’. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1968. The USA now observes 15 Jan. (his birthday) as a federal holiday.
JOHN BOWKER. "King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-KingMartinLutherJr.html
JOHN BOWKER. "King, Martin Luther, Jr." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-KingMartinLutherJr.html
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929–68) US Baptist minister and civil rights leader. He led the boycott of segregated public transport in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956. King was founder (1960) and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). He opposed the Vietnam War and demanded measures to relieve poverty, organizing a march on Washington D.C. (1963) where he made his famous (“I have a dream…”) speech. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated (April 4) in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to support striking workers. His wife, Coretta Scott King (1927– ), became a civil rights leader after his death. His son, Martin Luther King III, became leader of the SCLC in 1998.
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-KingMartinLutherJr.html
"King, Martin Luther, Jr." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved December 11, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-KingMartinLutherJr.html