By: Miranda Mong
As the third Monday of January passes again, it brings about a time to acknowledge an honorable man and hero of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the focal point of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an important speaker at the March on Washington, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize receiver, according to history.com. King and his belief of nonviolent protest was the most significant force in the civil rights movement from 1957 to 1968.
King was born as Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta Williams, a former schoolteacher. He was renamed Martin when he was about 6 years old, according to nobelprize.org.
After graduating high school, King enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., winning the Plafker Award as an outstanding student.
Recently married, King returned to the South to become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. There, he made his first mark on the civil rights movement by rallying together the black community during a 382 day boycott of the city’s bus lines, which is now famously known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King overcame many hardships like arrest and harassment, including the bombing of his home. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided bus segregation was unconstitutional.
A national hero and a civil rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of African American leaders in 1957 and laid the foundation for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or the SCLC. King was elected its president, and he began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.
King’s nonviolent tactics were put to their true test in Birmingham during a mass protest in 1963. Police brutality used against the marchers was shown to the nation, and left an enormous impact. King was arrested, but he was not silenced. He wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is still famously known today.
Later that year, King was a speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate speeches of his career. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech became one of the most influential and well known speeches of all time, demanding an end to racism inspirationally. Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. When he returned from Norway, where he had gone to accept the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Alabama, he led a campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King then found himself in Chicago, where he launched programs to provide housing.
In the North, however, King soon discovered that young and angry African Americans cared little for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their anger was one of the reasons he rallied behind a new cause, the war in Vietnam.
Although he was trying to create a new relationship between support for peace and civil rights, it did not go over well. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) saw King’s shift as, “a serious tactical mistake.” The Urban League warned that the, “limited resources” of the civil rights movement could not be spread so far, according to history.com.
But as we can see now, King’s timing was perfect. Students, professors, and reformers rushed into the movement. Then King turned his attention to the domestic issue that he felt was directly related to the Vietnam struggle, poverty. He began to plan a massive march on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such a large size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate Americans.
King interrupted these plans to lend his support to the Memphis sanitation men’s strike. He wanted to discourage violence, and he wanted to focus national attention on the struggles of the poor, unorganized workers of the city. The men wanted union representation and long overdue raises.
However, he never got back to his poverty plans. On April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the African American-owned Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, while standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy, King was shot in the neck by a rifle. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country, and King’s fight to end racism and bring civil rights to the world brought society a gigantic leap in the right direction.
However, King’s legacy has lived on. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today it stands next to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His birthday is a national holiday, celebrated each year with educational programs, artistic displays, and concerts around the United States. The Lorraine Hotel where he was shot is now the National Civil Rights Museum. King’s legacy is sure to never die, and he will continue to inspire many for years and years to come.