About Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a vital figure of the modern era. His lectures and dialogues stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation. The movements and marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life through his courage and selfless devotion. This devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities. His charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, in this nation and around the world.
Dr. King’s concept of “somebodiness,” which symbolized the celebration of human worth and the conquest of subjugation, gave black and poor people hope and a sense of dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change, galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities. His wisdom, his words, his actions, his commitment, and his dream for a new way of life are intertwined with the American experience.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at noon on Tuesday, January 15, 1929 at the family home, 501 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Charles Johnson was the attending physician. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first son and second child born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Also born to the Kings were Christine, now Mrs. Isaac Farris, Sr., and the Reverend Alfred Daniel Williams King. The Reverend A.D. King is now deceased.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s maternal grandparents were the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents were James Albert and Delia King, sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.
He married Coretta Scott, the younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurry Scott of Marion, Alabama, on June 18, 1953. The marriage ceremony took place on the lawn of the Scott’s home in Marion, Alabama. The Rev. King, Sr. performed the service, with Mrs. Edythe Bagley, the sister of Coretta Scott King as maid of honor, and the Rev. A.D. King, the brother of Martin Luther King, Jr., as best man.
Four children were born to Dr. and Mrs. King:
- Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama)
- Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957, Montgomery, Alabama)
- Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia)
- Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963, Atlanta, Georgia)
At the age of five, Martin Luther King, Jr. began school, before reaching the legal age of six, at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta. When his age was discovered, he was not permitted to continue in school and did not resume his education until he was six. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high scores on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen.
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected President of the Senior Class and delivered the valedictory address. He won the Peral Plafkner Award as the most outstanding student, and he received the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951.
In September of 1951, Martin Luther King, Jr. began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” was completed in 1955, and the Ph.D. degree was awarded on June 5, 1955.
Dr. King was awarded honorary degrees from various colleges and universities in the United States and several foreign countries. They include:
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Morehouse College
- Doctor of Laws, Howard University
- Doctor of Divinity, Chicago Theological Seminary
- Doctor of Laws, Morgan State University
- Doctor of Humanities, Central State University
- Doctor of Divinity, Boston University
- Doctor of Laws, Lincoln University
- Doctor of Laws, University of Bridgeport
- Doctor of Civil Laws, Bard College
- Doctor of Letters, Keuka College
- Doctor of Divinity, Wesleyan College
- Doctor of Laws, Jewish Theological Seminary
- Doctor of Laws, Yale University
- Doctor of Divinity, Springfield College
- Doctor of Laws, Hofstra University
- Doctor of Humane Letters, Oberlin College
- Doctor of Social Science, Amsterdam Free University
- Doctor of Divinity, St. Peter’s College
- Doctor of Civil Law, University of New Castle, Upon Tyne
- Doctor of Laws, Grinnell College
Martin Luther King, Jr. entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in February 1948 at the age of nineteen at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that was responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also Vice President of the National Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of numerous institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. King received numerous awards for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. Among them were the following:
- Selected as one of the ten most outstanding personalities of the year by Time Magazine, 1957.
- Listed in Who’s Who in America, 1957.
- The Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, 1957.
- The Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers, 1957.
- The Second Annual Achievement Award from The Guardian Association of the Police Department of New York, 1958.
- Selected as one of the sixteen world leaders who had contributed most to the advancement of freedom during 1959 by Ling Magazine of New Delhi, India.
- Named “Man of the Year,” by Time Magazine, 1963.
- Named “American of the Decade,” by the Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers, International Union, 1963.
- The John Dewey Award, from the United Federation of Teachers, 1964.
- The John F. Kennedy Award, from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, 1964.
- The Nobel Peace Prize, at age 35, the youngest man, second American, and the third black man to be so honored, 1964.
- The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamaican Government, posthumously, 1968.
- The Rosa L. Parks award, presented by The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, posthumously, 1968.
- The Aims Field-Wolf Award for his book, Stride Toward Freedom.
The above awards and others, along with numerous citations, are in the Archives of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.
Although extremely involved with his family, his church, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, activities for peace and justice, his world travels, and his many speaking engagements, Dr. King wrote six books and numerous articles. His volumes include:
- Stride Toward Freedom, (New York: Harper & Row, 1958). The story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
- The Measure of a Man, (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1959). A selection of sermons.
- Why We Can’t Wait, (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). The story of the Birmingham Campaign.
- Strength to Love, (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). A selection of sermons.
- Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967). Reflections on the problems of today’s world, the nuclear arms race, etc.
- The Trumpet of Conscience, (New York: Harper & Row, 1968). The Massey Lectures. Sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (Posthumously).
Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Dr. King was in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable working conditions. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968, and returned to Memphis, Tennessee on July 19, 1969 to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.
On December 8, 1999, a jury of twelve citizens of Memphis, Shelby County, TN concluded in Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, III, Bernice King, Dexter Scott King and Yolanda King Vs. Loyd Jowers and Other Unknown Conspirators that Loyd Jowers and governmental agencies including the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and the federal government were party to the conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s funeral services were held on April 9, 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church and on the campus of Morehouse College, with the President of the United State proclaiming a day of mourning and flags being flown at half-staff. The area where Dr. King is entombed is located on Freedom Plaza and is surrounded by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site. The site is a 23-acre area was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977 and was made a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
(Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. from The King Center website at www.thekingcenter.org/mlk/bio.html)