Dr. Martin Luther King served as the catalyst and voice of America's civil rights movement. Today, decades after his tragic death, his memory holds strong and he continues to be one of the most influential leaders of America. He was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, the second child of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. A highly motivated child, Martin Luther King, Jr. entered Morehouse College to study religion at age 15. He was a junior in college when he was ordained a minister and made the assistant pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his father and grandfather before him had served as pastors.
In 1948, Martin Luther King, Jr. entered Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, PA, where he began to seriously study the life and work of Mahatma Ghandi. "I came to see for the first time," he later wrote, "that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Ghandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in the struggle for freedom."
While working toward his doctorate degree in Systematic Theology at Boston University, Martin Luther King, Jr. met and married Coretta Scott. In May, 1954, he became the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The following year, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Her courage triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and thrust Dr. King to the forefront of a citywide protest against local segregation laws. He organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and advised African-Americans to boycott the buses and picket businesses owned by white people. In 1956, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Alabama's bus segregation laws were unconstitutional and the victory established Dr. King as a national leader paving the way for desegregation in other areas, most notably in public school systems around the country.
In 1957, Dr. King helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to end segregation using non-violent protests. He led numerous demonstrations against discrimination including rallies, sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, voter registration drives, and the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his famed "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. These efforts received international acclaim and recognition when Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Dr. King, through his powerful and sincere speeches, renewed the hopes, determination and spirit of all people seeking to improve their own lives and advance the principles of humanity nationwide and around the world.
Dr. King's last protest took place on March 28, 1968 when he led a march in Memphis, TN, in support of striking sanitation workers. He was assassinated seven days later, on April 4, while standing on the balcony of his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Dr. King's death was mourned by millions of people around the world. In 1985, President Reagan signed a proclamation declaring the third Monday in January of each year a public holiday in honor of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life and legacy will live on and the leaders of today can learn from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophies, speeches and actions as a man who epitomized peace, harmony, determination, righteousness, justice and freedom for all people.
January 16th, 2017 is the 88th anniversary of Dr. King's birth. Let us all remember Dr. King and carry forth the legacy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through research, education and training principles, philosophy and methods of nonviolence.
Image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. National Archives.