Michael King Jr.( January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968), son of Michael King Sr. born in Atlanta, Georgia, would be a prominent figure in the Black Civil Rights Movement, as Martin Luther King. The leader of the civil rights movement would go on to inspire billions of people with his principle of non-violence and racial justice.
He experienced first-hand racism at six when he had to attend a school for black children while his close playmate went to ‘school for white children’. Soon afterward, when the parents of his white friends forbade them to play with him, he learned about the history of slavery and racism in America. Upon learning of the hatred, violence, and oppression that black people had faced in the U.S., King would later state that he was “determined to hate every white person” but his Christian belief held him back. King also witnessed the fight of his father against segregation and different form of racism. In 1936, King’s father led hundreds of African-Americans in a civil rights march to the city hall in Atlanta, to protest voting rights discrimination.
In his early childhood, Martin recited the Bible, memorized its hymns, and went to church events with his mother. King later became a member of the junior choir in his church. As he grew up, he garnered a large vocabulary from reading dictionaries but always showed a lack of interest in grammar and spelling. Even amidst the fight, he always watched his language and attempted to combat it with knowledge of the language. In September 1940, at 12, he was enrolled in Atlanta University Laboratory School for the seventh grade.
In high school, King became known for his public speaking ability. On April 13, 1944, in his junior year, King delivered his very first public speech on an oratorical contest where he stated, “black America still wears chains. The finest negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar,” and won the first prize. In 1944, at 15, King passed the entrance examination and was enrolled at Morehouse University. In 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry. He was convinced that the church reassures the inner urge to serve humanity, and he made peace with the Baptist church and believed he would be a rational minister. King graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology in 1948, aged nineteen. Continuing his study, Martin later enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, from where he graduated with B.Div. degree in 1951. The same year, King began his doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University. He also attended Philosophy classes at Harvard University as an audit student in 1952 and 1953. Although an academic inquiry in 1991 concluded that the portions of his doctoral dissertation were plagiarized, his doctoral degree wasn’t revoked. King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953.
MLK rose to fame following the Montgomery bus boycott, 1955, which resulted from the arrest of black girls for refusing to give their bus seats to white men. King was arrested during this campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. His role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesperson of the civil rights movement.
In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group harnessed the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform.
In September 1958, having survived a close death by a mentally ill Black Women who stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. Later Wachtel Founded a tax-exempt fund to assist the nonviolent civil rights movement named, “ Gandhi Society for Human Rights”, where he served as an honorary president for the group. He got displeased with the pace that President Kennedy was using to address segregation. In 1962, King and the Gandhi Society produced a document that called on the President to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and issue an executive order to deliver a blow for civil rights as a kind of Second Emancipation Proclamation but Kennedy did not execute the order. In 1959, after a five-year stay at Montgomery, he returned to Atlanta and continued his activism and helped expand the Civil Rights Movement across the South.
MLK was arrested on 1960, October 25, in the mass October sit-in organized by “the Atlanta student movement”, highlighting the ignorance of civil rights during the presidential campaign but was released in just two days because of the high pressure of activists arrive and the country on the personal request of John F. Kennedy.
He also led the Albany Movement in Georgia, where he and SCLC mobilized thousands of citizens for a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city and attracted nationwide attention. He was part of the mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators where he declined bail until the city made the concession. After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement started deteriorating. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a “Day of Penance” to promote nonviolence and maintain the moral high ground. After Albany, King sought to choose engagements for the SCLC, focusing on those in which he could control the circumstances, rather than entering into pre-existing situations.
In April 1963, the SCLC began a campaign against racial segregation and economic injustice in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign used nonviolent but intentionally confrontational tactics, developed in part by Rev.Wyatt Tee Walker. Black people in Birmingham, in cooperation with the SCLC, occupied public spaces with marches and sit-ins, openly violating laws that they considered unjust. King was arrested early in the campaign — his 13th arrest out of 29. From his cell, he composed the now-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that responded to calls on the movement to pursue legal channels for social change.
King always said the crisis of racism "is too urgent, and the system was too entrenched"; “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; the oppressed must demand it.”
King along with the other six leaders led the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. The then-president of the USA John F. Kennedy initially opposed the march, but the organizers were firm that it would proceed, so he helped to mobilize demonstrators. The march was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern U.S. and an opportunity to place organizers’ concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation’s capital. Organizers intended to denounce the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. The march made specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public schools; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers (equivalent to $17 in 2019); and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by a congressional committee.
Despite the tension, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool.
It was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington, D.C.’s history, at that time. King gave his most famous speech, “I have a dream”, before the Lincoln Memorial, which is considered to be one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. The March, and especially King’s speech, assisted to put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In January 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., came to the city and gave the backing of the SCLC to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who were fighting for the cause to register Black voters in the county seat of Selma had been thwarted.
On March 7, the march met police brutality and lead to violence, which is marked in history as bloody Sunday. But the march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965, and concluded on the steps of the state capitol where King delivered a speech that became known as “How Long, Not Long.” In it, King stated that equal rights for African Americans could not be far away, “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” and “you shall reap what you sow”.
In 1966, after major successes in the south, King, Bevel, and others in the civil rights organizations took the movement to the North, with Chicago as their first destination. He started the movement there but King’s beliefs militated against his staging a violent event, and he negotiated an agreement with Mayor Richard J. Daley to cancel a march to avoid the violence that he feared would result. King was hit by a brick during one march but continued to lead marches in the face of personal danger.
King also showed his major disagreement on the involvement in the Vietnam War. During an April 4, 1967, appearance at the New York City Riverside Church, King delivered a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” where he spoke strongly against the U.S.’s role in the war. He argued that the U.S. was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and calling the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He connected the war with economic injustice, arguing that the country needed serious moral change. King then spoke for the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic aspects and more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice.
In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice. King traveled the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would march on Washington to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created an “economic bill of rights” for poor Americans. On April 3, King addressed a rally and delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address at Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. A bomb threat against his plane had delayed King’s flight to Memphis. On his stay at room no: 306 at Lorraine Motel, King was fatally shot by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m., Thursday, April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. After emergency chest surgery, King died at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m. and remains buried within Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.
His assassination sparked nationwide riots against racial discrimination and demand for justice. Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy gave a short speech to the gathering of supporters informing them of the tragedy and urging them to continue King’s ideal of nonviolence. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader. Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended King’s funeral on behalf of the President, as there were fears that Johnson’s presence might incite protests and perhaps violence. Two months after King’s death, James Earl Ray—who was on the loose from a previous prison escape—was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave England on a false Canadian passport and was given 99 years’ prison term.
To this date, Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered worldwide as one of the most prominent figures who fought for racial justice till his last breath, and whose speeches are sung as a song of freedom. In honor of his outstanding contribution, January 18th is celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. day.
In the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. day.