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Campaigner, Writer, Trainer, Management, Consultant & Director - Working for Equality

Martin Luther King Jr.


martin luther king jrBaptist minister and civil rights leader. Born Michael Luther King, Jr., on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. The grandson and son of Baptist ministers, King grew up singing in his church choir. In 1935, his father changed both of their names to Martin to honor the German Protestant. Young Martin attended segregated public schools and graduated from high school at age 15. In 1948, he received his B.A. degree from Morehouse College in Georgia, the alma mater of both is father and grandfather, and in 1951 he earned is B.D. from Crozer Theological Seminary. While at Crozer, King was elected president of a predominantly white senior class. In 1955, he received a Ph.D. from Boston University, where he also met his future wife, Coretta Scott , with whom he had four children.

King was ordained a minister in 1947 at his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1953 at age 24. Committed to black civil rights from an early age, King was an active member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Relatively untested when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus in December 1955, King led the boycott of Montgomery's segregated buses for over a year. The situation became so intense that he was arrested, he and his family were threatened, and his home was bombed. But eventually the Supreme Court outlawed discrimination in public transportation and King emerged a prominent leader of the civil rights movement.

In 1957, King was elected president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group designed to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the interest of civil rights reform. His approach was based on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi as well on Christian teachings. A trip to India in 1959 to meet the Gandhi family cemented his belief in nonviolent resistance and his commitment to civil rights in the United States.

In 1959, King moved to Atlanta to become co-pastor of his father's church, and in the ensuing years gave much of his energies to organizing protest demonstrations and marches in such cities as Birmingham, Alabama (1963), St. Augustine, Florida (1964), and Selma, Alabama (1965). The marches were for the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights. The protests won media attention and public sympathy for the indignities suffered by Southern blacks, providing what he called "a coalition of conscience" and bringing the civil rights movement to the forefront of American politics in the 1960s.

Between 1957 and 1968, King canvassed the country and appeared more than 2500 times to speak in protest against injustices toward his race. He wrote five books and numerous articles. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written in 1964, was a manifesto for the revolution, drawing on his experience as a preacher to galvanize and inspire an audience. During these years, King was arrested and jailed by Southern officials on several occasions, was stoned and physically attacked, and his house was bombed. He was also placed under secret surveillance by the FBI due to the strong prejudices of its director, J Edgar Hoover, who wanted to discredit King as both a leftist and a womanizer.

King's finest hour came on August 28, 1963 when he led the great march in Washington, DC, that culminated with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the cooperative effort of the Big Six civil rights organizations, SCLC, NAACP, Urban League, SNCC, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the Congress of Racial Equality. An unequivocal success, more than a quarter million people of all ethnicities attended the event, making it the largest gathering of protesters in Washington's history. Political success arrived with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the height of his influence, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35, becoming the award's youngest recipient. He turned over the prize money, $54,123, to the movement.

King then used his newfound powers and prestige to attack discrimination in the North. To educate themselves about the plight of Northern blacks, King and Ralph Abernathy moved to Chicago's slums and helped found The Chicago Freedom Movement. Both reflected that the public reception in Chicago was much worse than in the South, the politics more corrupt, and the threat of violence more dire. Abernathy and King eventually returned to the South, leaving a young Jesse Jackson to continue their work.

Meanwhile, as the Vietnam War began to consume the country, King broadened his criticisms because he saw the impact of the war on the country's resources and energies. In his April 1967 speech in New York City, King called the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." His outspoken criticism of American foreign policy caused mainstream American media, once an ally and advocate, to question him.

King was also an advocate of a government compensatory program seeking restitution of wages lost to slavery. In 1968, without the full support of the SCLC, King organized the Poor People's Campaign, which included a march on Washington D.C. The organization demanded aid for the poorest communities in the United States and sought an economic bill of rights that provided for massive government job programs to reconstruct society. Critics called this switch in agenda a new brand of democratic socialism.

In the spring of 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to show support for black city workers striking for higher wages and better treatment. He was shot and killed on April 4, 1968 as he stood on the balcony of his motel there. He was 39 years old. The assassination led to a wave of riots in cities nationwide, and President Johnson declared a national day of mourning in his honor. Two months after the shooting, escaped convict James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the murder, although he later insisted he was innocent.

With an oratorical style that drew directly on the force of the Bible and a serene confidence derived from his non-violent philosophy, King advocated a program of moderation and inclusion. Although later generations would question some of his message, few could deny that he had been the guiding light for 15 of the most crucial years in America's civil rights struggle. President Carter acknowledged King's contributions by posthumously awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

Four children were born to Dr. and Mrs. King:

Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955 Montgomery, Alabama)
Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957 Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961 Atlanta, Georgia)
Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963 Atlanta, Georgia)


Martin Luther King, Jr. began his education at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high score on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen.

In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected president of the senior class and delivered the valedictory address; he won the Pearl Plafker Award for the most outstanding student; and he received the J. Lewis Crozer fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951.

In September of 1951, Martin Luther King began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, "A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wieman," was completed in 1955, and the Ph.D. degree from Boston, a Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology, was awarded on June 5, 1955.

Honorary Degree

Dr. King was awarded honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities in the United States and several foreign countries. They include the following:

Doctor of Human Letters, Morehouse College
Doctor of Laws, Howard University
Doctor of Divinity, Chicago Theological Seminary

Doctor of Laws, Morgan State College
Doctor of Humanities, Central State College

Doctor of Divinity, Boston University

Doctor of Laws, Lincoln University
Doctor of Laws, University of Bridgeport

Doctor of Civil Laws, Bard College

Doctor of Letters, Keuka College

Doctor of Divinity, Wesleyan College
Doctor of Laws, Jewish Theological Seminary
Doctor of Laws, Yale University
Doctor of Divinity, Springfield College

Doctor of Laws, Hofstra University
Doctor of Human Letters, Oberlin College
Doctor of Social Science, Amsterdam Free University
Doctor of Divinity, St. Peter's College

Doctor of Civil Law, University of New Castle Upon Tyne
Doctor of Laws, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Martin Luther King entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in February 1948 at the age of nineteen at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which was responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also vice president of the national Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of several institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Dr. King received several hundred awards for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.

Among them were:

Selected one of the most outstanding personalities of the year by Time, 1957.
Listed in Who's Who in America, 1957.
the Spingarn Medal from NAACP, 1957.
The Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers, 1957.
The Second Annual Achievment -- The Guardian Association of the Police Department of New York, 1958.
Link Magazine of New Dehli, India, listed Dr. King as one of the sixteen world leaders who had contributred most to the advancement of freedom during 1959.
Named Man of the Year by Time, 1963.
Named American of the Decade by Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers International Union, 1963.
The John Dewey Award, from the United Federation of Teachers, 1964.
The John F. Kennedy Award, from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, 1964.
The Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamacian Government. (posthumously) 1968.
The Rosa L. Parks Award, presented by the Southern Christian Leadrship Conference. (posthumously) 1968.
The preceding awards and others, along with numerous citations, are in the Archives of the Martin Luther King, Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Sources in the LSU Libraries


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a vital personality of the modern era. His lectures and remarks stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation; the movements and marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life; his courageous and selfless devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities; his charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, in the nation and abroad.

Dr. King's concept of somebodiness gave black and poor people a new sense of worth and dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change, galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, went to Congress as a result of the Selma to Montgomery march. His wisdom, his words, his actions, his commitment, and his dreams for a new cast of life, are intertwined with the American experience.

Dr. King's speech at the march on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final speech in Memphis are among his most famous utterances (I've Been to the Mountaintop). The Letter from Birmingham Jail ranks among the most important American documents.


Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968 and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Dr. King had been in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable conditions. His funeral services were held April 9, 1968, in Atlanta at Ebenezer Church and on the campus of Morehouse College, with the President of the United States proclaiming a day of mourning and flags being flown at half-staff. The area where Dr. King was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza and surrounded by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, a 23 acre area was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977, and was made a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.