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Born Michael Luther King, Jr, but later changing his name, Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen.
His grandfather began the family’s long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father served from 1931 onwards, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor.
King received the BA degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had been graduated.
After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the BD in 1951.
With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955.
In Boston, he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.
In 1954, Martin Luther King accepted the pastorale of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organisation of its kind in the nation.
It was in Montgomery, in 1956, that a woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to vacate a “whites only” seat on a city bus. Together with Ralph Abernathy, King organised a successful boycott of the city buses and won national acclaim.
On 21 December 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals.
During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time, he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organisation formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organisation he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi.
In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King travelled over six million miles and spoke over 2500 times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and, meanwhile, he wrote five books as well as numerous articles.
In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama that caught the attention of the entire world providing what he called ‘a coalition of conscience’.
Inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – a manifesto of the black revolution – he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of black people as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, DC of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his “l Have a Dream” speech, 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.
On 4 April 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated while visiting Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city.
The killer was a sniper who shot Dr King as he stood on his motel room balcony.
Fear and violence mounted as the shock of the assassination spread across the US and set off a wave of rioting and looting.
Riots erupted in 63 cities as the black community expressed its outrage and grief.
More than 150,000 mourners attended his funeral at his old Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Mahalia Jackson sang Precious Lord, Take My Hand. And television cameras were following all of this.
Indeed the intensive coverage did not subside until, on 8 June 1968, James Earl Ray, the assassin, was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London, England.
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men”
Martin Luther King. 1963
“Longevity has it’s place. But I’m not concerned about that right now. I 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”.
Martin Luther King. 3 April 1968 – the night before his assassination.