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Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born: January 15, 1929
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
Died: April 4, 1968
Place: Memphis, Tennessee

Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. He was one of three children born to Alberta and Martin Luther King, Sr. His father was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. During his youth, Martin Luther King, Jr. attended local schools and when he was only 15 he enrolled in Morehouse College. He received his B.A. degree in 1948 at the age of 19. He went on to seminary school, and in 1955 he earned his doctorate degree. His studies were focused on theology, and were greatly influenced by the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi, India's advocate of change through non-violence. He married Correta Scott, and then accepted the invitation to move to Montgomery, Alabama to become the pastor of Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King's oratory skills and his passion for justice, civil rights, and non-violence defined the rest of his life.

In Montgomery history was in the making and Martin Luther King, Jr. was at the forefront. This is where, in December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on one of the city's segregated buses and where a dramatic boycott against the city's bus system became national headlines. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the effort with his impassioned speeches and his calls for non-violent protest, and for 13 months the boycott endured. In the end, after arrests and personal attacks, after threats against his family and the bombing of his house, Dr. King saw the fruits of his advocacy for non-violent protest. The tactics had worked. The segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1956.

King went from the successful desegregation of Montgomery's bus system to organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. As the SCLC's first president, he worked with other black leaders to promote civil rights through non-violent means. His was not an easy task, however, and he was often at odds with law enforcement as well as with those who advocated King's goals, but who favored more militant tactics. Throughout the early 1960's King participated in civil rights demonstrations, protests, and sit-ins. He spoke to increasingly large audiences, and in 1963 the gatherings, demonstrations, and marches were making daily headlines across the country. Gaining momentum, the civil rights movement was unstoppable. In the August 28, 1963 march on Washingtion, D.C., Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed a crowd estimated at a quarter of a million people. Here he delivered his eloquent "I Have A Dream" speech that resonated throughout the nation. This is one of Martin Luther King's most famous and powerful speeches. We are fortunate that this momentous piece of America's history was captured on video so that all people can experience the passion of his 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Click here to add this video of King's I Have A Dream speech to your collection.

In 1964, Marting Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. More militant black leaders were becoming more openly impatient with King's philosophy of non-violence. He was also becoming more of a thorn in the sides of the country's political leaders. He ran afoul of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was powerful. He worked feverishly to discredit King. Where Martin Luther King had benefited from a more favorable relationship with President John F. Kennedy's administration, things became more strained with the adminstration of Lyndon B. Johnson. King grew increasingly critical of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. This was not something that pleased President Johnson as the war continued to divide the nation and plague Johnson's presidency. Nor was King's attention on the war something that many activist black leaders wanted to embrace as they felt that King was drawing the focus away from their immediate issues. At times King must have felt that he was being challenged from all sides.

But Martin Luther King, Jr. was driven by his convictions and he continued to fight not just for the betterment of black people, but for all people. In 1968 King was planning for another demonstration in Washington, D.C. This time it was to be the Poor People's March to Washington, which King hoped would focus the nation's attention on poverty in America. But a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, Tennessee drew his attention, and he travelled to Memphis and delivered a speech on April 3, 1968 in support of the workers. The next evening, Martin Luther King, Jr. was felled by an assassin's bullet as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead. The nation was shocked by the violent end of its most prominent civil rights advocate.

Controversy was part of King's life, and it did not end with his death. For years, America wrestled with proposals to honor Dr. King with a holiday. On November 2, 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation that created a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

Find out more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Use these links to purchase books and videos from

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. is technically not an autobiography. But it is an extensive collection of writings, interviews, and correspondence. It is edited by King scholar Clayborne Carson, and is a comprehensive account of Dr. King's extraordinary life.

Another important book about Martin Luther King is I Have a Dream : Writings and Speeches That Changed the World. It includes the most popular of Martin Luther King Jr's writings and speeches, with a forward by Coretta Scott King.

A recent book that presents an alternative view of King's life is I May Not Get There With You : The True Martin Luther King, Jr. by Michael Eric Dyson. It explores beyond King's influence on the civil rights movement and probes King's beliefs about socialism, the Vietnam War, and woman's rights as well.

We also would like to direct you to a video that contains some good interviews and footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Commemorative Collection (1988) is a worthy addition to your video collection.


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