THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON: “I HAVE A DREAM”
KING’S FINAL ADDRESS: “I’VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP”
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: BIOGRAPHIC NOTES
One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, 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.
Rosa Parks: The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Barack Obama Speaks at Selma, Alabama
Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, 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. Later that year, King resigned from Dexter and returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father.
In 1960, black college students initiated a wave of sit-in protests that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King supported the student movement and expressed an interest in creating a youth arm of the SCLC. Student activists admired King, but they were critical of his top-down leadership style and were determined to maintain their autonomy. As an adviser to SNCC, Ella Baker, who had previously served as associate director of SCLC, made clear to representatives from other civil rights organizations that SNCC was to remain a student-led organization. The 1961 “Freedom Rides” heightened tensions between King and younger activists, as he faced criticism for his decision not to participate in the rides. Conflicts between SCLC and SNCC continued during the Albany Movement of 1961 and 1962.
In the spring of 1963, King and 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 as he became Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and 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. However, along with the fame and accolades came conflict within the movement’s leadership. Malcolm X‘s message of self-defense and black nationalism resonated with northern, urban blacks more effectively than King’s call for nonviolence; King also faced public criticism from “Black Power” proponent, Stokely Carmichael.
King’s efficacy was not only hindered by divisions among black leadership, but also by the increasing resistance he encountered from national political leaders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive efforts to undermine King’s leadership were intensified during 1967 as urban racial violence escalated, and King’s public criticism of the U. S. intervention in the Vietnam War led to strained relations with Lyndon Johnson’s administration.
In late 1967, King initiated a Poor People’s Campaign 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.
To this day, King remains a controversial symbol of the African-American civil rights struggle, revered by many for his martyrdom on behalf of non-violence, but criticized by others for his militancy and insurgent views.
Clayborne Carson, Editor
“Martin Luther King Biographic Note”
CORETTA SCOTT KING
After her husband’s death in 1968, Coretta King emerged as an important activist in her own right. She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and led the fight to make her husband’s birthday a national holiday. Yet she also was known as a loving mother who reared four children alone. She instilled in them a reverence for the ideals their father espoused, as well as an independence to chart their own courses, even if it challenged long-standing ideals of who or what they should be.
She became an international advocate for peace and human rights. She met with presidents and world leaders and was arrested fighting against apartheid. And well into her 70s, she traveled the globe to speak against racial and economic injustice, promote the rights of the powerless and poor, and advocate religious freedom, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and AIDS awareness.
Coretta Scott King, 78, of Atlanta, died on February 4, 2006, at a holistic hospital in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, about 17 miles south of San Diego. Despite her physical struggles, friends and family members said her last days were painful, she had made a surprise appearance the previous month during The Martin Luther King Center’s annual “Salute to Greatness Awards Dinner” in downtown Atlanta. She was wheeled into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, triggering an admiring standing ovation. She smiled, waved and kissed family members, but she did not speak. It would be her last public appearance.
A Musical Tribute to Correta Scott King:
On January 31, 2006, National Public Radio broadcast “A Musical Tribute to Corretta Scott King.” To honor Mrs. King’s memory, the program drew upon music from a long-standing tradition in Atlanta. From the 2005 edition of the annual King Celebration concert, the tribute to Mrs. King included Lift Every Voice and Sing, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the glee clubs of Morehouse and Spelman colleges. The tribute also included a 1998 interview on National Public Radio, during which Mrs. King had reflected upon the importance of music to the Civil Rights Movement.
A Tribute to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
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