Martin Luther King, Jr., is a Baptist clergyman, an activist, and a leader of the USA civil rights movement. Martin Luther started to fight for equal civil rights in the early1950’s and continued doing this up to his assassination. His entire life and work were devoted to stopping the African-American population segregation in the USA. In 1955, Martin Luther organized Montgomery Bus Boycott and initiated the foundation of the Sothern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1957, he became the head of the mentioned conference. In 1963, Martin Luther organized the March on Washington in order to make the USA President and the Government pay attention to the problems of the African-Americans. During this March, Martin Luther King delivered a speech known as I Have a Dream (Hall & Hall 363).
In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., received the Nobel Peace Prize for his aim to stop racial discrimination and segregation. King considered that the non-violent principles should be of superior priority not only in the USA but in the whole world. These principles should be followed by all humankind. King did his best to stop the American war actions in Vietnam. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was cruelly assassinated in Memphis, the state of Tennessee. King was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom after his death. The Day of Martin Luther King, Jr., has been celebrated as a federal holiday in the USA since 1986.
This paper will focus on the life, main events and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther (Michael) King, Jr., 1929, was born in the family of Alberta and Michael, Sr., King. The roots of his father and mother’s families were traced in Georgia. His mother’s father was a minister in Georgia for many years. In 1893, he decided to move to Atlanta together with his family where he managed to organize a Baptist community.
King’s father was born in a very poor family. In 1926, Michael King, Sr., married Alberta, and they moved to Atlanta as well. Michael King, Sr., became a pastor as his father-in-law. He was a rather prominent pastor and gained the respect of his congregation. Michael King, Sr., took the name Martin Luther King, Sr. He did this in honor of Martin Luther, the well-known German leader of the Protestant Church. In some years, Martin Luther (Michael), Jr., followed his father’s example and adopted the same name.
There were three children in the family: an older daughter, Willie Christine, a younger son, Alfred Daniel, and Martin Luther, Jr. The children were brought up in a very loving and calm family atmosphere. Martin Luther’s father tried to fight against racial discrimination because he observed the suffering and disrespect of his race. He believed that racism and discrimination of other people are against the will of God. These ideas had a rather remarkable influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Martin was five years old, he went to school. He also studied at Booker T. Washington School where he was one of the best students. After graduating from the school in 1944, Martin Luther made up his mind to enter Morehouse College. It is worth mentioning that Martin was only fifteen years old when he entered the college. He was said to be a very sophisticated student who always tried to find answers for his questions and was interested in a great number of different things. At first, Martin did not want to connect his life with religion as his father wished, but he changed his mind and took up a religious class. This decision helped Martin renew his faith in God and led him to start a career as a minister. Being in his last year of studying, Martin decided to tell his father and family about his intention to become a Baptist minister, and it turned out to be the greatest pleasure for his father because his dream was going to become true (Martin Luther King, Jr., Biography).
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Further Education and His Participation in the Public Protests
Martin Luther graduated from the college and obtained a degree in Sociology in 1948. In the same year, he entered the Liberal Crozer Theological Seminary, which was situated in Chester, the state of Pennsylvania. In the college, he was elected the president of the student body. Martin was one of the best students in the college and gained a scholarship that gave him an opportunity to continue his further education.
Martin Luther had a classmate whose father, Reinhold Niebbuhr, played a crucial role in his future life and career. Reinhold Niebbuhr was a theologian who influenced Martin Luther’s spiritual and intellectual growth. Martin’s liberal views were established due to the influence of theology.
It should be pointed out that Martin was offered to take his doctoral degree in several prominent institutions such as Yale or the University in Edinburgh (Scotland), but he gave his preference to Boston University. While working on his doctoral thesis, Martin Luther King, Jr., got acquainted with Coretta Scott. She was a musician and a singer at the New England Conservatory School. In 1953, Martin and Coretta got married. There were four kids in the family: Martin Luther, III, Yolanda, Bernice, and Dexter Scott. In 954, Martin Luther King, Jr., became a minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery. It is worth stressing that Martin Luther was twenty-five years old only when he got his doctoral degree in Philosophy.
Fight for Civil Rights
Montgomery Bus Boycott
It was the 2nd of March, 1955, when an accident changed the life of the USA society. An African-American teenager girl, Claudette Colvin, disagreed to a demand of her giving up a seat to a person who was a white one. Her conduct was treated as a violation of law. Claudette was arrested by the local police and imprisoned. The representatives of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wanted to take up this case in order to protest the established bus policies, but they gave up their actions. As it turned out, this girl was pregnant, and it was obvious that the case would not be accepted and treated properly.
In December, 1955, one more accident took place. Rosa Parks, who was forty-two years old, took a bus while going home after her working day. Rosa took the first seat in the bus colored section. While travelling, all seats in the section for the white people were occupied, and when some whites got on the bus, the driver ordered that some other African-Americans and Rosa Parks had to stand up and leave their seats in order the whites to take them. Some people followed the order, but Parks continued to sit. The driver ordered her again, but Parks was very persistent. It happened that Rose was arrested for breaking the City Code of Montgomery. The court found Rose Parks guilty and fined her. On that very night, when Rose was arrested, the leaders of the NAACP decided to initiate a protest known as a bus boycott in the city. Martin Luther was chosen as the head of this boycott. Martin met with protesters and pronounced a speech. It was Martin Luther’s first public speech where he focused on the future strategy of his fight for equal civil rights for all people:
We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice (quoted in Martin Luther King, Jr., Biography).
Martin Luther started a new era in the fight for civil rights in the USA. The African-American population of Montgomery did not use the public transport. It was a long-lasting protest against the established rules for the African-Americans. After the following case had been heard in the several courts, the local authorities had to annul segregation in public transport. King was arrested for the first time during that boycott, and his family and house were attacked several times.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
After gaining the victory in Montgomery, the leaders of the civil rights movement decided to act not only at the Southern states level but at the national level too. Martin Luther and his friends, and colleagues initiated the foundation of the SCLC. The main goal of this conference was to promote the changes in the society and the civil rights reforms, but all actions should have been realized without any violence and power. Martin Luther considered that the only possible way to reach a consensus was a peaceful one. Martin Luther King, Jr., lectured at many meetings throughout the whole country to explain the necessity of solving the problems of the USA nation. He wished that all people had equal rights not taking into account the color of their skin. For instance, the African-Americans had no right to take part in any voting until 1958; though, they were, too, the citizens of the USA (King Online Encyclopedia).
It is worth pointing out that Martin experienced the influence of ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, the well-know world leader who insisted on the non-violent ways of solving the problems. Martin studied all works and speeches of this Indian leader and even managed to visit India. After returning, King was very astounded and decided to follow the principles of non-violence in gaining the needed goals.
In 1960, many African-American students started the movement which was called the sit-in protest. In the city of Greensboro, they occupied all seats, for the whites and for the blacks, in the store. They were asked to leave the section for the whites, but they went on sitting not paying attention to the different abuses. This movement was followed throughout the whole country. Martin Luther met with the leaders of this movement and supported their actions. This protest did bring some results. The white and black sections in the shops were annulled in many cities.
The Albany Movement
In 1961, King was involved into the movement that was organized in Albany. This movement aimed to stop all aspects of segregation which occurred in the city. Many people and Martin Luther were arrested in the first days of the movement taking place. Martin Luther was found guilty of breaking the law and was sentenced to fine or prison. King gave his preference to prison. After having spent several days in prison, he was released (King Online Encyclopedia). King embraced that the movement tactics should be changed and continued calling the people to follow the non-violence and moral virtues in order to pursue their aims.
The Campaign in Birmingham
This campaign was another attempt of the SCLC to make some radical changes concerning civil rights. Many people and even children took part in the demonstration, but they were cruelly treated by the local authority and the police. Many supporters and King got into prison. It should be stressed that this campaign drew attention of the whole American nation. Some blacks and whites did not approve the fact that children had been involved into the demonstration (King Online Encyclopedia). The leaders of the SCLC and King planned to organize a massive national demonstration in order to promote the needed changes. They began preparing the March on Washington.
The March on Washington
Martin Luther King, Jr., was among the initiators of the March on Washington. This march started on the 28th of August, 1963. The main goals of this action were freedom and jobs for the people of the USA. The initiators wanted to attract attention of the president and the government to the problems of the African-American population of the country. The situation was very serious, especially in the Southern states of the USA.
The representatives of the African-American community were treated in a very unacceptable manner, and their civil rights were not taken into consideration and violated. Martin Luther King, Jr., pronounced the most outstanding speech, I Have a Dream, in front of many people who gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. This march is considered to be the largest and the most prominent protest during the whole history of the USA capital (King Online Encyclopedia).
This march did have a remarkable influence on the development of civil rights in the USA. In 1964, some changes were introduced to the Act of Civil Rights: the racial discrimination and segregation were stopped in all institutions and organizations, people were supposed to be protected from any violence. This act and further changes in the life of the whole American nation led Martin Luther King, Jr., to gaining the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
In 1965, King suggested the organization of the march from Selma to Montgomery. This turned out to be very violent and cruel. The police used tear gas and nightsticks against the demonstrators. Martin Luther did not take part in the following march, but all acts of violence and blooded people were broadcast on the television. Many participants were injured and hospitalized. This fact gave to the march a name of Blood Sunday to the march. The second attempt was cancelled. King made up his mind to take part in the third march. Martin asked the people not to be violent; they simply kneeled and prayed. Many young demonstrators and followers from other parts of the country did not support Martin’s position of the non-violent approach during the march (King Online Encyclopedia). However, in 1965, King’s leadership was recognized again due to the fact that the Voting Rights Act came into force.
The Last Years of King’s Life
In 1965-1967, King managed to expand the movement for the civil rights to the different cities and towns of the United States of America. His ideas were supported and followed in some parts of the country; although, they were criticized and contradicted as well. For instance, in Los Angeles and Chicago, new young leaders showed their disappointment and did not want to support Martin’s approach of non-violence. In order to restore the African-Americans’ support, King began to connect poverty with discrimination. He was also against the war in Vietnam and did not approve the American policies and actions concerning this country. King treated this war as a new possibility for the USA to get a new colony and prove the rest of the world its leading position. He considered that the USA government simply spent people, resources, and money on the war, which was not needed at all (King Online Encyclopedia).
During 1967-1968, Martin Luther aimed to organize other protests, was imprisoned several times, and he was constantly threatened. He understood that his work and goals concerning the civil rights stopped making any progress, and people began to be discouraged. King was strongly criticized by the new African-American leaders who suggested the quite opposite ways in order to reach a desirable result. The second march on Washington was supposed to take place.
In 1968, Martin Luther visited the city of Memphis where there was a sanitation workers’ strike. On the third of April, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his last public speech. His last speech turned out to be very prophetic: “I have 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” (quoted in Martin Luther King, Jr., Biography).
On the forth of April, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated when he stood on the balcony of the hotel in Memphis. His assassin, James Earl Ray, was caught after several months of international hunt. The cruel killing of Martin Luther King, Jr., evoked the massive demonstrations and protests in many parts of the USA. James Earl Ray was found guilty of killing Martin Luther and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a crucial influence on the development of democracy not only in the USA but in the whole world. Martin Luther King, Jr., is recognized as the best-known African-American leader of the XX century. His entire life was devoted to the fight for equal rights for all American people. He always stressed that everything in this life should be gained only in a peaceful way. Due to King’s work, the African-American population obtained equal civil rights in America. Martin Luther King, Jr., is highly honored in the United States of America.