Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered

MLK Jr.Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States, and he has become a human rights icon.  He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, serving as its first president. King’s efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.

One of the world’s best known advocates of non-violent social change strategies, Martin Luther King, Jr., synthesized ideas drawn from many different cultural traditions. King’s roots were in the African-American Baptist church. He was the grandson of the Rev. A. D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and the son of Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer’s pastor and also became a civil rights leader.

On December 5, 1955, five days after Montgomery civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to obey the city’s rules mandating segregation on buses, black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King as president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association. As the boycott continued during 1956, King gained national prominence as a result of his exceptional oratorical skills and personal courage. His house was bombed and he was convicted along with other boycott leaders on charges of conspiring to interfere with the bus company’s operations. Despite these attempts to suppress the movement, Montgomery bus were desegregated in December, 1956, after the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional.

In 1957, seeking to build upon the success of the Montgomery boycott movement, King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As SCLC’s president, King emphasized the goal of black voting rights when he spoke at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. During 1958, he published his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. The following year, he toured India, increased his understanding of Gandhian non-violent strategies. At the end of 1959, he returned to Atlanta where the SCLC headquarters was located and where he also could assist his father as pastor of Ebenezer.

During the spring of 1963, he and his staff guided mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known from their anti-black attitudes. Clashes between black demonstrators and police using police dogs and fire hoses generated newspaper headlines through the world. In June, President Kennedy reacted to the Birmingham protests and the obstinacy of segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace by agreeing to submit broad civil rights legislation to Congress (which eventually passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Subsequent mass demonstrations in many communities culminated in a march on August 28, 1963, that attracted more than 250,000 protesters to Washington, D. C. Addressing the marchers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” oration.

During the year following the March, King’s renown grew as he became Time magazine’s Man of the Year and, in December 1964, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. During the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march, King and his lieutenants were able to bring about passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Despite a call from some to use more forceful forms of protest, King remained committed to the use of non-violent techniques. Early in 1968, he initiated a Poor Peoples campaign designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by early civil rights reforms.

MLK FreedomBy the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee where he was there in support of black sanitation workers on strike for better wages and fair treatment.

King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. national holiday in 1986.
Sources:
The above was reprinted in part from an online biography found at
www.wikipedia.net and a biographical article written by Clayborne Carson at www.mlkonline.net