Considered by many to be the pre-eminent civil rights leader in American History, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA.
Both King's father and grandfather were preachers and he would follow in their footsteps but in his own style. He attended Morehouse College were he further developed his beliefs that a minister could serve society and improve the lives of African-Americans.
He married the former Coretta Scott of Marion, Alabama in 1953. King went on to study theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and at Boston University, where he received a doctorate in systematic theology in 1955. He would carry something with him from Boston that would stay with him forever. It was a book entitled, "Jesus and the Disinherited" by Howard Thurman. Prophetically the book contains the following statement, "Many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of these interpretations deal with what the teachings and the life of Jesus have to say to those who stand, at a moment in human history, with their backs against the wall." Following the completion of his studies he accepted the pastorship of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.
He quickly found himself in the forefront of what would later be known as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man in December and shortly thereafter a heretofore divided black community came together to form the Montgomery Improvement Association.
Looking for strong leadership the group elected King president of the group and on December 5, 1955 the association launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King's house was bombed and he was convicted along with around 88 other leaders of conspiring to interfere with the bus company's operations. But King and his followers held their ground and a year later after the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama's segregation laws unconstitutional the boycott was ended and the Montgomery bus system was desegregated.
In 1957 King and other ministers started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King as president. One of the first goals of the group was to register all black voters. In 1958 King published a Book "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story." Soon thereafter King was stabbed in the chest in a Harlem bookstore and found himself in the hospital in near-critical condition.
At the end of 1959 King left Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and returned to Atlanta to run the SCLC and to help his father at his church.
These were often trying times for King who was increasingly running into opposition from student protestors who thought he was moving to slowly to do any good. In 1961 the Freedom Riders demonstrated that King did not have complete control of the movement many thought he had.
In 1963 King led demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. The pictures of demonstrators being attacked by dogs and fire hoses were flashed around the world and would further ignite the movement. The events incensed President Kennedy so much he submitted Civil Rights legislation to Congress which would be passed by Congress as the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On August 28, 1963 King and more than 250,000 protestors took to the streets of Washington, D.C. and at the Lincoln Memorial King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech.
Despite the rising tide of accolades for King from a 1964 Nobel Peace Prize to being named Time Magazines "Man of the Year" he was not without criticism within his own black community. Malcom X and his call for black nationalism often spoke more to urban blacks than Kings ideas of non-violence and restraint.
The Civil Rights Movement was further energized by the 1965 attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery and the final successful march. News stories of marchers being beaten by Alabama State Troopers were again flashed around the world bringing more and more people into the movement.
King stood by his stand for non-violence as he spoke all over the United States in the following years. He also earmarked another problem in American society that of economic inequality and in 1968 he initiated a Poor Peoples campaign and called for another march on Washington.
But King was never to see that march as tensions built throughout the country. In 1968 he was gunned down outside a Memphis hotel. A leader who had rejected violence was silenced by the very violence he rejected.