Martin Luther King, Jr: He Marched President Barack Obama into the White House

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
Stanford University

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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Vernon Baker Hailed: African-American World War II Hero

Vernon Baker Hailed: African-American World War II Hero

On September 11th, 2008, the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Wofford College, a small liberal arts college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, paid honor to Vernon Baker. Baker is the only living African-American to have been awarded the World War II Medal of Honor. Describing Vernon Baker as “the greatest hero you or I will ever meet in our lifetime,” Bernie Dunlap’s voice choked with emotion as the Wofford College President spoke about Vernon Baker in front of a standing-room-only crowd last Thursday at Leonard Auditorium in Wofford’s historic Old Main Building.

Dunlap presented Baker, the only living African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II, with the college’s third annual Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind to a thunderous standing ovation during Wofford’s opening convocation ceremony. Dunlap and Wofford College Dean David Wood also presented Baker, 89, with an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, and Spartanburg’s Mayor William Barnet followed by giving Baker a key to the city. “It is September 11, and we remember that this is a difficult and challenging world,” Barnet told the crowd. “But we will always remember our heroes, whether they admit they’re heroes or not, and today we honor one.”

Dunlap first learned of Baker’s story by watching an NBC documentary about Baker that was broadcast during last Winter’s Olympics and later reading Baker’s autobiography, Lasting Valor. Baker, has “endured decades of some of the worst this country offered to 20th century black America,” Dunlap said. Baker served in the Army as a lieutenant with the 370th Regiment. On April 5th and 6th, 1945, he destroyed four German machine gun nests near Viareggio, Italy, at Castle Aghinolfi, a German mountain strong point on the high ground. He killed nine enemy soldiers with a gun and hand grenades.

For his service, Baker also earned the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross in addition to the Medal of Honor. However, It took 52 years before those heroics were recognized. Baker, because he was an African-American, was not officially honored for his bravery until 1997 when he and six of his comrades finally received the Medal of Honor from then-President Bill Clinton. Of the group honored by Clinton, Vernon has the only honoree still living.

The Sandor Teszler Award, which was also given to Baker, carries with it a $10,000 gift and honors the late Sandor Teszler, a Jewish immigrant who came to the Carolinas after he and his family were nearly killed by the Nazis during World War II. Teszler, for whom Wofford’s college library is named, was a friend of the college and a textile businessman who was one of the first to desegregate textile mills in the Carolinas. Previous recipients of the Teszler Award have been Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, in 2006, and Paul Farmer, Founding Director of the international charity organization Partners in Health, last year.

Wofford College Honors WWII Hero Vernon Baker

Interview with Vernon Baker: WWII Medal of Honor Winner

NBC Documentary: Vernon Baker Honored after 52 Years

Wofford College’s Sandor Teszler Award

Wofford College, in Spartanburg (SC), honored Joseph Vernon Baker, the only living African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II. Wofford presented Baker with The Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind during the college’s opening convocation ceremonies on September 11, 2008.

The Sandor Teszler Award represents the highest ideals that the Wofford community embraces, and it carries with it a $10,000 award. Sandor Teszler was born in the old Austro-Hungarian empire, and during World War II Teszler, his wife and two sons were taken to a death camp on the Danube River, where the Nazi victims were systematically beaten to death. They were prepared for imminent death, but then they unexpectedly were rescued by an official from the Swiss Embassy. Immigrating to America and coming to the Carolinas, Sandor Teszler became a leader in the textile industry, soon becoming one of the very first to desegregate the textile mills. During the last decade of his life, Teszler graced the Wofford campus, “attending so many classes that the faculty, acknowledging a wisdom and experience greater than their own, honored themselves by making him a professor.”

Historical Notes on Wofford College’s Tribute to Joseph Vernon Baker

Wofford College is one of only a handful of colleges and universities in the United States that were founded prior to the Civil War, which still operates and remains on its original campus. The Wofford campus has been designated a National Historic District, and five of its six original college buildings are still in use today. Wofford has become known in the wider academic world as a true “Phoenix rising from the ashes.” The college was devastated by the loss of almost its entire endowment as a result of the Civil War. However, despite its meager financial resources, Wofford proudly struggled through the next twelve decades to provide an academically challenging education to its small student body. One illustration of the sterling academic quality maintained by the college is the fact that forty-two Wofford College alumni have gone on to serve as college and university presidents.

The commemoration of Joseph Vernon Baker and the courage exemplified in his life carries a special confluence with a certain aspect of Wofford’s own history. Founded in 1854, for over a century Wofford was a small private liberal arts college that was segregated, attracting almost all of its white students from the Old South. In 1962 and 1963, public colleges and universities throughout the region had begun to desegregate, almost always forced to do so at the direction of federal court orders and accompanied by significant resistance and often violence. In the face of strong and heated public sentiments against desegregation, as well as by anticipated bitterness concerning the college’s plans for integration and withdrawal of financial support for the college on the part of some of its alumni, supporters and friends, Wofford’s officers were undaunted and forged ahead, quietly beginning to make plans for desegregation. In the fall semester of 1964, the college opened its doors with an admissions policy that was equally applicable and nondiscriminatory to all students who might wish to apply, regardless of their race or creed. Steadfastly committed to its decision to make a stand for human equality, Wofford thus became one of the very first private colleges in the Old South to peacefully integrate.

Vernon Baker is now 89 years-old and lives in St. Maries, Idaho. Mr. Baker had earned the Medal of Honor 52 years before he and six of his military comrades actually received the award in 1997 from then-President Bill Clinton at a special White House ceremony. Mr. Baker was the only one who was still living to accept the Medal of Honor in person, the military’s highest award for bravery in battle. “They helped America to become more worthy of them and more true to its ideals,” Clinton said at the White House observance.

Vernon Baker, who had served as a lieutenant with the 370th Infantry Regiment, was cited for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life” for his actions on April 5 and 6th, 1945, when he destroyed four German machine gun nests near Viareggio, Italy, at Castle Aghinolfi, a critical German high-ground mountain defense post. He killed nine enemy soldiers with a gun and hand grenades. Mr. Baker also was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions in Italy.

Lt. Joseph Vernon Baker: An Honor Long Deferred

In the January 14th, 1997 edition of The New York Times, James Bennett wrote a moving article about the White House ceremony, which came a half-century after most of them had died in combat. On January 13th, 1997, seven soldiers finally were awarded the Medals of Honor that they deserved, but which had been denied after World War II because they were African-Americans. Of the seven men, Joseph Vernon Baker was the only one of the decorated soldiers who was still alive.

Their abilities and courageous actions in combat had been routinely derided by white officers. The very soldiers who were finally honored on that day had been forced to fight in segregated units, protecting the very freedoms that they did not fully share.

History has been made whole today,” Mr. Clinton declared, while standing in the East Room of the White House in front of Gilbert Stuart’s full-length portrait of George Washington, ”and our nation is bestowing honor on those who have long deserved it.”

Lt. Vernon Baker: An Honor Long Deferred

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