Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important figures within the fields of politics and non-violent activism of the 20th century. King was born on 15th of January 1929 in the city of Atlanta within the boundaries of the state of Georgia. Originally Martin Luther King Jr. as named after his father as Michael King, although his father who was also named after Michael King after visiting the Nazi Germany in order to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin he found himself been inspired by a German reformer called Martin Luther, so he decided to change both his name and his son’s name into Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr. respectively.
King was the middle child of the family having a younger brother Alfred Daniel Williams King and an older sister Willie Christine King. As a reference to his education he attended Booker T. Washington High school, also it is stated that he was a precocious student as he skipped two grades the ninth and the twelfth and entered Morehouse College at the early age of fifteen. He graduated College in 1948 and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester which he graduated with a B. Div. degree in 1951.
Meanwhile in 1953 he married Correta Scott and eventually became a father of four children Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King. Thereupon he became a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1954; he began his doctoral degree course in Systematic Theology at Boston University and graduated receiving his Ph. D. degree in 1955 with a dissertation on “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman”.
Although an academic observation which was held in 1991 concluded that parts of his dissertation were plagiarized but the committee decided that his degree shouldn’t be revoked. As a remark Martin Luther King Jr. was strongly influenced by religion (as it was natural, as been a Christian Minister since 1947) more specifically he was influenced by Jesus Christ and the Christian Gospels from which he frequently used quotes in his public speeches, he was also inspired from Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent activist action.
In April of 1959 he made a desired for him as it was stated trip to India with the assistance of the American Friends Service Committee, it has to be mentioned that the trip affected King in a profound way and helped him deepen his knowledge and understanding in non-violent resistance and his commitment to the America’s struggle for civil rights, as he stated the last day of his trip to India in a local radio, King said: “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.
The “Fight” Against Segregation It all started back in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin an African- American girl which in fact was under aged unmarried pregnant girl refused to give up her seat to a white man. At that point King was a member of the Birmingham African-American community and also a member of the committee which looked into the case but it was decided that they should wait for a better case to pursue. Their patience yielded.
On December 1, 1955 an other African-American girl called Rosa Sparks also refused to give up her seat, back on that date the buses rows were “separated”, white people should seat on the front rows and the African-American people should seat on the back rows of the busses seats, as natural at some point the two “different” categories of passengers would meet. At that point the bus’s seats were all occupied and according to Jim Crow laws the following African-American passengers that would board on the bus were required to stand.
It was exactly what they were waiting for, and soon after Rosa was arrested the Montgomery Bus Boycott broke out, it lasted 385 days. The whole Boycott issue turned out as a huge victory, although during the campaign a bombing attack was made against King’s house and he was also arrested. As a result the United States District Court in Browder v. Gayle case ended the racial segregation in all Montgomery public busses. After the Montgomery Bus Boycott King’s contribution to the result transformed him into a national figure and he was also off the record declared the best-known spokesman of the civil-rights movement.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Soon after the Montgomery lowdown King, Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created in order to saddle the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform, King led the SCLC until his death. In 1962 SCLC joins Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Albany Movement which was stated to be the first major non-violent campaign of SCLC.
The Albany movement was a desegregation movement which was formed by local activist organizations, the SNCC and the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People (NAACP). The movement’s leader was William G. Anderson. During the period of King’s involvement with the Albany movement he was arrested twice, once in a mass arrest on 15th December of 1961 and in July of 1962. Although it has to be mentioned that King had been criticized by SNCC, they’ve even given him a snide nickname “De Lawd”, because as they claimed he maintained a safe distance from challenges that had to deal with Jim Crow laws.
Birmingham Campaign Soon after the incidents in Albany the Birmingham campaign came to light. Birmingham campaign was a movement organized by SCLC and led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others. In the spring of 1963 the operation of the Birmingham campaign was at its peak, including widely publicized controversies between black young people and white civic authorities and eventually led the municipal government to change the city’s discrimination laws. A fact that can’t remain unnoticed as during the early 60s Birmingham was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States.
Ultimately Birmingham movement was defined as a model of direct action protest, as it effectively shut down the city through a boycott and a series of sit-ins and marches, and drew the world’s attention to racial segregation in the South. Also it is stated that it paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Great March on Washington After the Birmingham campaign the SCLC called for massive protests in Washington DC to push for new civil rights legislation that would outlaw segregation nation-wide which turned to be an unparalleled success.
The Great march on Washington claimed the title of one of the largest political rallies for human rights in the United State’s history, as the estimated number of participants varies from 200,000 to 300,000 and still remained non-violent, the 80% of the participants were estimated to be black and the rest were white and other non-black minorities. Also the city was swarmed by more than 2,000 buses, 21 special trains, 10 chartered aircrafts and uncountable personal vehicles. But the march was stigmatized by the King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.
King began his speech with the emancipation of the slaves, issued by Abraham Lincoln and concludes that even though blacks were freed from slavery they still aren’t free. Then he raised the matter of the unkept promise of America to the Civil Rights Union for the continued pursuit of justice as racial segregation still existed. Finally he promotes black people to keep on fighting for their rights in non-violent ways as he believed that violence would lead to a cycle of fighting, unnecessary death and cruelty.
The Poor People’s Campaign and the opposition to the Vietnam War In 1965 Martin Luther King Jr. egan to express his doubts about the Vietnam War in public. On 4th April 1967 he delivered a speech at the New York City Riverside Church titled “Beyond Vietnam: A time to break silence. ” In which he expressed his objection to the role of the United States in the Vietnam War, mentioning that United States was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. ” He also connected the Vietnam War with economic injustice based on the fact that the US government was spending more and more on the military and less and less on anti-poverty programs.
He summed up this aspect by saying:” A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”. Almost a year later in 1968 King organized the “Poor Peoples Campaign” in order to raise the matter of economic injustice; King crossed the whole country in order to assemble a multiracial army of poor people in order to march on Washington DC and engage in a non-violent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created an ‘economic bill of rights’ for poor Americans.
The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D. C. , demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States. The reconnaissance King was awarded at least fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in the U. S. In 1965, he was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his “exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty”.
In his acceptance remarks, King said, “Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free. ” In 1957, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. Two years later, he won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity”. Also in 1966, King was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He was posthumously awarded a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for his Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam in 1971. In 1977, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was posthumously awarded to King by President Jimmy Carter, who stated: “Martin Luther King, Jr. , was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America.
He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet. ” More than 730 cities in the United States have streets named after King. King County, Washington rededicated its name in his honor in 1986, and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007. The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is named in honor of King. King is remembered as a martyr by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (feast day April 4) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (feast day January 15).
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