Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was born in Atlanta on 15 January. Both his father and grandfather were pastors in an African-American Baptist church. King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, (segregated schooling) and then went to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University. While at University, Martin Luther King became aware of the vast inequality and injustice faced by black Americans; in particular, he was influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest. The philosophy of Gandhi tied in with the teachings of his Baptist faith. At the age of 24, King married Coretta Scott, who would also come to be a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement. After getting married, King became a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
A turning point in the life of Martin Luther King was the Montgomery Bus Boycott which he helped to promote. The boycott also became a turning point in the civil rights struggle – attracting national press for the cause. Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist, refused to give up her seat, breaking the strict segregation of coloured and white people on the Montgomery buses. The bus company refused to back down and so Martin Luther King helped to organise a strike where coloured people refused to use any of the city buses. The boycott lasted for several months, the issue was then brought to the Supreme Court who declared the segregation was unconstitutional.
Following the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, King and other ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This proved to be a nucleus for the growing civil rights movement. Later there would be arguments about the best approach to take. In particular, the 1960s saw the rise of the Black power movement, epitomised by Malcolm X and other black nationalist groups. However, King always remained committed to the ideals of non-violent struggle (Biography Online).
In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. These years included the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, ‘l Have a Dream’, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure. At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement (NobelPrize.org).
On April 4th, 1968, King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city. It was one day after he had delivered his final speech ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’. In his honour, America has instigated a national Martin Luther King Day. He remains symbolic of America’s fight for justice and racial equality (Biography Online).