1929 Birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The son of a prominent Atlanta, Georgia pastor, King (1929-68) attended segregated public schools and went on to study theology, receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 1955. As a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he took a leadership role in the famous bus boycott provoked by the actions of Rosa Parks. During the struggle, King was arrested and his home was bombed but victory was eventually won; blacks and whites would henceforth ride the buses as equals.
In 1957 King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization pressing for increased civil rights through an application of religious principles, especially nonviolent protest. He grew in fame and moral stature as he led marches in Selma, Alabama where young black people encountered the firehoses and police dogs; in Birmingham he was arrested, which inspired his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the March on Washington, he delivered his “l Have a Dream” speech to a quarter-million people. In 1964, at the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
With the passage of the landmark civil rights bills of the mid-1960s, King turned his attention to protesting American involvement in the Vietnamese civil war and economic inequality. These stands lost King a good deal of white support while more radical black leaders, rejecting non-violence, seemed to be gaining in popularity amongst African American youth. In April 1968 he appeared in Memphis Tennessee to lend his support to a strike by garbage workers. His speech on April 3 was eerily prophetic:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just 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. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
The next day, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, he was assassinated.