A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929.  As the grandson of the Rev. A.D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and the son of Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer’s pastor, King’s roots were in the African-American Baptist church.  After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, King went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University, where he deepened his understanding of theological scholarship and explored Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy for social change.

King married Coretta Scott in 1953, and the following year he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.  On December 5, 1955, after civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery’s segregation policy on buses, black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association.  The boycott continued throughout 1956 and King gained national prominence for his role in the campaign.  In December 1956 the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional, and Montgomery’s buses were desegregated.

Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, Dr. King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.  In 1959, King toured India in order to further develop his understanding of Gandhian nonviolent strategies.  In the spring of 1963, King and the SCLC led mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known for their violent opposition to integration.  Clashes between unarmed black demonstrators and police armed with dogs and fire hoses generated newspaper headlines throughout the world.  President Kennedy responded to the Birmingham protests by submitting broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Subsequent mass demonstrations culminated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which more than 250,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D. C.  It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech.

King’s renown continued to grow and he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to Dr. King by President Jimmy Carter in 1964.  In late 1967, King initiated the Poor People’s Campaign, which was designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by earlier civil rights reforms.  The following year, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he delivered his final address, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.  The following day, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: I Have a Dream

A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and His Time

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