I don’t think the person you see right in front of you needs an introduction, but for the benefit of those reading who may not know, I present to you Martin Luther King Junior. Please believe me when I say that I am in no way looking down on anyone who may never have heard of him. In fact, this article is for those who do not know about Martin Luther King Jr and my job is to shed light on who he was and the legacy he left behind.
So who is Martin Luther King Jr? To many he is regarded as the father of the civil rights movement and arguably the most influential figure of that movement. Apart from his many achievements in fighting for the liberation of African-Americans from the systematic racism of that time, he is also famous for his riveting “I have a dream” speech.
Yes, his legacy lives up to this day and he even has a special day set aside for him where his life and works are remembered and celebrated. That day is the Martin Luther king Jr. day, which is observed on every third Monday of January each year in America. So in honour of black history month I present to you a brief look into the life, works and achievements of Martin Luther king Jr. Lets proceed shall we?
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
- He was born Michael Luther King Jr in Atlanta, on January 15, 1929 after his father Michael Luther king sr. His father visited Europe, Germany to be precise. After learning more about the great church reformer Martin Luther , he was greatly inspired and changed his and his son’s name to Martin.
- King came from a line of pastors starting from his grandfather. His grandfather was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church. King’s father succeeded him to serve as pastor, and King pastored alongside his dad as co pastor from 1960 till the day he died. As a result , King grew up in a very religious home. It was said that as a child , King was required to recite a bible verse at the dinner table every night. His favourite verse to quote was ” Jesus wept”. Not hard to see why he loved that verse. I’m guessing it’s because it was short and easy to remember.
- Martin Luther King Jr grew up in a time of great segregation of white and blacks. It was a time when Jim crow laws were in full effect in the southern part of America. These laws separated whites and blacks to the point that they weren’t allowed to use the same facilities or attend the same schools. King was a bright young man and jumped two grades in high school, 9th and 12th grade to be precise. He definitely would have attended an all black school. He attended Booker T Washington high school in 1944. He then attended Moore house college, the same place his mother Alberta Williams studied.
- He had doubts about christianity and the bible and decided to pursue law or medicine. You see, despite his religious upbringing, he initially didn’t want to follow in his fathers and grand-fathers foot steps.However, he was convinced to follow the pastoral vocation by the Moore house college president, Benjamin E. Mays. Benjamin himself was an accomplished theologian. King eventually reconnected with his faith and came to the conclusion by saying in quote, “The bible has many profound truths which one cannot escape”.
- He chose to become a minister and after graduating with a sociology degree at the age of 19, he attended Crozer theological seminary in Pennsylvania. There he studied divinity and went on to attend graduate school at Boston university. He received a PhD degree in 1955. He met his wife Coretta scott while studying at Boston and not long after they got married on June 18, 1953. This marriage wasn’t initially supported by Martin’s dad, but he later gave in and martin and Coretta were able to tie the knot.Their union produced 4 children.
- A woman named Rosa parks on December 1, 1955, refused to give up her seat to a white man when she was asked to do so. This led to her arrest but also sparked protests from the black activists in the community. Martin Luther King by this time was also a civil rights supporter. He was a member of the executive committee of the ‘National association for the advancement of coloured people. Due to his commitments he initially refused to join in the proposed bus boycotts, but after some persuasion he agreed.
- On December 1955, Dr King led a boycott of Montgomery segregated bus system for 382 days. This segregated system made African Americans seat at the back of the bus. They also had to give up their seats if a white person asked, or should I say demanded it. Due to this boycott king suffered attacks from his racist opposers. His home was bombed . He was arrested and faced abuse and threats to his life. However, his unrelenting spirit made way for the U.S supreme court to rule against segregation of public buses calling it unconstitutional.
- The Southern christian leadership conference [SCLC] was formed in 1957. Dr King was made the president of this organisation. It was formed to provide leadership to the rising civil rights movement. The organisation took a lot of its ethos from Christianity. A trip to India greatly inspired King jr. He was able to study non-violent resistance and became convinced that this was the method he would use to achieve civil rights for black people in America. This inspired the operational techniques of SCLC, as they were heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. King was president till his death.
- King was also behind the revolutionary Birmingham campaign . Birmingham at that time was known to be a city where black people faced legal and cultural discrimination. Till the 1960’s it was known as a racially divided city. King led a campaign against the city which initially involved adult volunteers only. However, these numbers ran low and King made use of young children and teenagers as volunteers instead. The Birmingham police department used police attack dogs with high pressure water jets on the children.The police department was headed by a man named Eugene “Bull” Connor. The protest and the attack of the police was covered by the media and led to an outrage nationwide and all over the world. People were appalled seeing the violence carried out on the youths and children. The movement ended and the government changed the cities discriminatory laws. Eugene the head of the police department also got fired from his job.
- The freedom rides were also staged by the SCLC headed by King. These rides were made up of black and white students who would ride buses sitting side by side around the south. This was to challenge the laws in those parts that separated races on the public transports. Freedom riders faced lynching, with some buses being attacked and burned by angry protesters. However, this protest led to federal action and laws changed to their favour.
- The great march to Washington where King gave his legendary ”I have a dream” speech was organised by King and other civil rights leaders on August 28, 1963. There were 250,000 participants and its dubbed one of the largest political rallies for human rights in history. King’s sacrifices also meant that he was always in danger and faced many threats to his life. He narrowly escaped assassination on September 20, 1959 in Harlem while signing copies of his new book ” Stride towards freedom”. He was approached by a lady who stabbed him in the chest with a seven inch letter opener saying ” I’ve been looking for you for five years”. It took 3 hours for surgeons to take out the blade.
- King won the Nobel peace prize in 1964, at that time he was the youngest recipient at just 35. King donated the $54,123 he received to the civil rights movement. He was also named the ”Man of the year” on times magazine that same year making him the first African American to be given that title on time magazine. These events together with the speech made him an even bigger target. He was under close watch by the FBI, they would bug his telephone wires and send him letters of black mail. One such letter alleged that king was having an affair, in which they threatened to expose him. So much controversy surrounds whether King really did have an affair and this frankly is up for debate.
- King’s assassination came all too soon. He was in Memphis to support the cities black sanitation workers. These workers were protesting against/for unfair wages , better safety job measures. However, this protest got ugly with some protesters breaking shop windows and looting. A formal complaint was lodged by the city of Memphis against Dr King and other SCLC leaders. However, an agreement was reached and the case was settled. The judge gave a permit for the protest to be held on April 8. On the evening of April 4, Andrew Young an SCLC representative came to kings motel room to tell him the good news .They all planned to go out for dinner later that evening. King however stepped out briefly on to his balcony, there he was shot dead. He was just 39 years old.
Kings death sparked an out rage which led to riots. Its no surprise, a national hero , the black messiah was taken away from the people all too soon. Martin lived such an exemplary and sacrificial life. If you go through history those who were brave enough to challenge the status quo often paid a price. However, these people whose bloods were spilled for the freedoms we enjoy today, fulfilled their purpose and they died empty. My question for you today is can you die for what you believe in? How do you intend to impact your world and those around you? will you die empty?
NobelPrize.org. (2018). The Nobel Peace Prize 1964. [online] Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/biographical/
New Georgia Encyclopedia. (2018). Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). [online] Available at: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/martin-luther-king-jr-1929-1968 .
Learnodo-newtonic.com. (2018). 10 Major Accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. | Learnodo Newtonic. [online] Available at: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/martin-luther-king-jr-accomplishments .
HistoryNet. (2018). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | HistoryNet. [online] Available at: http://www.historynet.com/martin-luther-king-jr .
Hiskey, D. (2018). 20 Interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Facts. [online] Today I Found Out. Available at: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/01/martin-luther-king-jr-facts/
Klein, C. and Klein, C. (2018). 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr.. [online] HISTORY. Available at: https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-martin-luther-king-jr .