Martin Luther King, Jr.
Civil Rights Activist
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of 15. In 1948 he received his B.A. from Morehouse College, an African American institution. In 1951, after three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. 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 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. By this time he was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind. In December, 1955, he became the leader of the first great African American nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott, which lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, African Americans and whites rode the buses as equals for the first time. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse. But at the same time he emerged as a leader of the first rank.
In 1957 King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the 11-year period between 1957 and his murder in 1968, King traveled over 6 million miles and spoke over 2,500 times; he also wrote five books as well as numerous articles. He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". He planned the voting registration drives in Alabama for African Americans; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream". He was arrested upwards of 20 times and assaulted at least four times.
At the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize. He turned the prize money over to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
Last Updated: August 2, 2017