“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
“The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now…”
– Martin Luther King, Jr. –
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was a Nobel Laureate Baptist minister and African American civil rights activist. He organized and led marches for the right to vote, desegregation, fair hiring, and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. He is perhaps most famous for his “I Have A Dream” speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and heroes in America’s history, and in the modern history of nonviolence.
Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A degree in 1948 and from Crozer Theological Seminary with a B.D. in 1951. He received his Ph.D from Boston University in 1955.
In 1954, Martin Luther became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a leader of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, which began when Rosa Parks refused to cede her seat to a white person. Dr. Martin Luther was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on intrastate buses.
Following the campaign, Martin Luther was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to organise Civil Rights activism. He continued to dominate the organisation to his death, a position criticised by the more radical and democratic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The SCLC derived its membership principally from black communities associated with Baptist churches. Martin Luther was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mohandas Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organised by the SCLC. Martin Luther correctly identified that organised, non-violent protest against the racist system of Southern separation known as Jim Crow, when violently attacked by racist authorities and covered extensively by the media, would create a wave of pro-Civil Rights public opinion, and this was the key relationship which brought Civil Rights to the forefront of American politics in the early 1960s. Martin Luther and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with astonishing success by choosing the method of protest, and the places in which protests were carried out, in order to provoke the harshest and most shocking Martin Luther retaliation from racist authorities. Martin Luther and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful protest movement in Albany in 1961-2, where splits within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated the movement, in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963, and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida in 1964. Martin Luther and SCLC joined SNCC in the city of Selma, Alabama in December 1964; SNCC had already been there worMartin Luther on voter registration for a number of months.
Martin Luther and SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, then attempted to organise a march which was intended to go from Selma to the state capital Montgomery starting on March 25, 1965. The first attempt to march, on March 7, was aborted due to mob and police violence against the demonstrators. The day has since become known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights movement, the clearest demonstration so far of the dramatic potential of King’s techniques of nonviolence. King, however, was not present; after meeting with President Lyndon Johnson, he had attempted to delay the march until March 8, and the march was carried out against his wishes and without his presence by local civil rights workers. The footage of the police brutality against the protestors was broadcast extensively across the nation, and aroused a national sense of public outrage.
The second attempt at the march, on March 9, was ended when Martin Luther stopped the march at the Pettus bridge on the outskirts of Selma, an action which he seems to have negotiated with city leaders beforehand. This unexpected action aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, with the agreement and support of President Johnson, and it was during this march that Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase “Black Power”.
Martin Luther was instrumental in the organisation of the March on Washington in 1963. This role was another which courted controversy, as Martin Luther was one of the key figures who helped President John F. Kennedy change the intent of the march. Conceived as a further part of the Civil Rights protest, it became more of a celebration of the achievements of the movement – and the government – so far, a development which angered activists who were more radical than King.
Martin Luther wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his long experience as a preacher. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice.
On October 14, 1964, Martin Luther became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States. Starting in 1965, Martin Luther began to express doubts about the United States’ role in the Vietnam War. In February and again in April of 1967, Martin Luther spoke out strongly against the US’s role in the war. In 1968, Martin Luther and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice. The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.
Along the way, Martin Luther also had an impact on popular entertainment. He met Nichelle Nichols who mentioned that she was going to leave the cast of the television series, Star Trek, since she felt was being mistreated by the studio. Martin Luther personally persuaded her to remain with the series for the sake of being an excellent role model for African Americans on television.
Martin Luther was hated by many white southern segregationists. Martin Luther was assassinated before the march on April 4, 1968, in a Memphis, Tennessee hotel room, while preparing to lead a local march in support of the heavily black Memphis sanitation workers’ union. James Earl Ray confessed to the shooting and was convicted, though he later recanted his confession. Coretta Scott King, King’s widow and also a civil rights leader, along with the rest of King’s family won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers, who claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King’s assassination.
In 1986, a U.S. national holiday was established in honor of Martin Luther Martin Luther Jr., which is called Martin Luther Martin Luther Day. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King’s birthday. On January 18, 1993, for the first time, Martin Luther Martin Luther Day was officially observed in all 50 United States states.
Source: This Martin Luther King, Jr Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 – 2009 Chuck Ayoub