There are a select few individuals who have come variously to be called great , leading , brilliant etc. because they and their accomplishments have forever changed society and the world (Siebold 9). Martin Luther King Jr. was one of those individuals. Dr. King s one mission was to improve race relations for all people regardless of color through non-violent means. Dr. King was beaten, arrested and in constant danger yet he refused to give up on his dream that all men would be treated equal. He would eventually be assassinated attempting to achieve his dream but along the way he made many accomplishments.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the second of three children born to Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta William King (Siebold 12). Martin and his siblings grew up in a relatively nice neighborhood that contained many successful black-owned businesses. At the early age of five he was already reciting Scriptures, singing hymns, and studying the dictionary hoping to improve his vocabulary. Martin would grow to be a very intelligent, athletic, and handsome young man. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School at the age of fifteen and earned his degree from Morehouse at the age of nineteen. He majored in sociology and minored in English. Both subjects served him well later in life. English helped him to be a more powerful, effective speaker and writer, while his study of sociology led him to better understand political, social, and economic forces that influenced America (Siebold 14). At Morehouse he also played as the quarterback for the school s football team. In college Martin expressed an interest in preaching. His father was very excited to hear the news and quickly organized a group of people to hear young Martins preaching debut. Initially it was to be held in the auxiliary room at the Ebenezer Church but so many eager would be audience members showed up the sermon had to be moved to the main Sanctuary. There Dr. King demonstrated his talent for oratory, and the sermon was a huge success (15).
After graduating from Morehouse, Martin attended the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He worked diligently studying ethics, social philosophy, and church history. He earned a straight-A average en route to being awarded the Pearl Plafker Award and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship. Crozer is where Martin acquired the ideas and inspiration that the path to social change and equality was through love and peace. He began to study the Gandhian (Mahatma Gandhi) method of non-violence (Siebel 16). In 1951 he went to Boston University to pursue his doctorate. As his studies progressed he came to realize that he had a moral obligation to return to the South and help his people rise up from poverty and segregation (16).
In Boston, Martin met Coretta Scott, a young woman from Alabama studying at the New England Conservatory for Music. He fell for her almost immediately. They were together constantly, walking, attending concerts, dancing, and eventually revealing their feelings for each other. Initially Coretta resisted Martin s hints at marriage because she wanted to pursue her music career. But Martin would not be denied and his father married them on June 18, 1953 (Siebold 17). They returned to Boston so he could complete his Ph.D. residency and she could finish her course work in music (17).
In 1954 the couple moved to Montgomery, Alabama where Dr. King would become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Coretta was hesitant about moving to Montgomery but later she wrote, Though had been opposed to going to Montgomery, I realize now that it was an inevitable part of a greater plan for our lives, Even in 1954 I felt that my husband was being prepared-and I too- for a special role about which we would learn more later. (King 97) In the next fifteen months the Kings would settle into their new home of Montgomery. Martin had completed his dissertation and received his Ph.D. from Boston University while Coretta had their first child. A month later their lives would take a drastic turn. In December, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery bus. This would in turn mark the beginning of Martin Luther King s initial involvement with the Civil Rights Movement (Davis 87).
A year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Negroes of Montgomery planned to organize a boycott of the bus lines to protest the treatment of Rosa Parks. Mrs. Parks minister, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, asked Martin to join and assist in organizing the boycott. Reluctant at first due to being a new parent, Dr. King eventually agreed to help as much as he could, later becoming one of the main persons involved with the boycott (Davis 89). The Negroes wanted to achieve more satisfactory seating practices on the buses and to secure employment of Negro drivers on buses in predominantly black neighborhoods. As the boycott proceeded the white community was outraged. Almost one hundred Negroes were indicted under an antiunion law forbidding obstructing the operation of a business (Davis 89). The bus company sought to solve the problem as soon as possible to avoid going bankrupt since Negroes made up almost seventy percent of its passengers. The blacks of Montgomery won the battle and Negroes all across the South realized that boycotts were an effective weapon in the battle for equality (Siebold 18).
Martin s success and popularity made him a prime target for racist behavior. He and his family received threatening phone calls, harassment from police and prominent city officials, he was arrested and, in, January 1956, the King house was bombed (Siebold 18). Coretta was severely shaken by this incident but, despite the danger, Martin was determined to stand by his belief of non-violent retaliation. This motivated Dr. King to travel abroad preaching relentlessly and during this period he wrote his first book titled Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story . He also sought to broaden the base of the Civil Rights Movement by establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Its first meeting was held on February 14, 1957, and Martin was elected its first president (Siebold 19). This was only the beginning of Dr. Kings stride toward his dream.
Over the next eleven years Martin would travel the country delivering hundreds of speeches, organizing marches and boycotts, and speaking up for the rights of all men. Not all were as successful but Dr. King was persistent. One of the most successful civil rights activities took place in August of 1963. King along with other civil rights leaders from across the country organized a march in Washington DC (Estell 469). Its main goal was to encourage congress to pass the civil rights bill created by President Kennedy. There is where Martin Luther King presented his most famous speech entitled I Have A Dream . The march was a major victory and, in 1964, Congress proceeded to pass the bill. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was created and it prohibited racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education for African Americans.
Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony in the rear of the Motel Lorraine in Memphis, Tennessee. To this day many believe there was a conspiracy involved in the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Martin had acquired many enemies in his plight for equality. It was noted many times how much legendary FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover despised Martin. He once described Dr. King as the most dangerous man in America, and a moral degenerate (Estell 471). Hoover also made many attempts to smear King s reputation. He tapped Martin s phone, placed him and his family under constant surveillance, and once even sent Coretta FBI evidence alleging Dr. King s sexual indiscretions (Siebold 27). One man, James Earl Ray, pleaded guilty to the 1968 assassination but later recanted and claimed he was just a figure in a much larger conspiracy. Martin s death may never be thoroughly investigated, nor will there be closure to this case but Dr. King s spirit and message live on.