He was born in 1929 in Atlanta Georgia at a time when African Americans had little rights in the white world. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, stepping in for his grandfather after he stepped down in 1931. It is believed by many that the strong presence the Kings had in the community inevitably shaped Martin Luther King Jr. into the confident and driven man that he was.
Although it has also been debated whether or not King formally graduated from his segregated high school in Alabama, at the age of 15 he went on to Morehouse College. His father and grandfather had also attended this distinguished University for African Americans. Following his graduation in 1948, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary and obtained his second bachelors degree in Divinity. King married Coretta Scott in 1953 with whom he had four children. He continued his education throughout his work as a pastor and father and received his Doctorate of Philosophy from Boston University.
By 1954 King had become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama as well as a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was just starting to make major moves for African American rights. He organized the famous bus boycott for 382 days, which resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was unconstitutional, changing public transportation as well as the lives of Americans forever. Throughout King's quest for equality, he faced extreme adversity including being arrested, having his house bombed, and personal abuse.
In 1957 as the civil rights movement was booming, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From this time until 1968 King toured the country to speak on behalf of his vision of justice, liberation, and peace. His influences included Christianity as well as philosophies from Mahatma Ghandi of India. Throughout this time he:
- wrote five books
- spoke over twenty-five hundred times
- wrote his inspiring “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
- helped with voter registration drives in Alabama
- directed the March on Washington (with an audience of 250,000 people)
- worked with President John F. Kennedy
- campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson
Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life in the belief that every human being deserves basic rights that are worth fighting for. He suffered a total of four assaults and was arrested upwards of twenty times. However he earned five honorary degrees, was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine, and was the youngest man to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room. Although his life was cut short, his memory and endeavors live on with the help of his loving wife who founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. He remains a hero in the eyes of his followers and those whose lives have been improved by his efforts.
It is a privilege to reflect on his life and celebrate him this month.