Born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister and civil rights leader who strongly believed in nonviolence. He attended Crozer Theological Seminary School in Chester, Pennsylvania to further his studies as a minister. In 1963 he was named Time magazine's Man of the Year; the next year he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. King is most remembered for his powerfully moving speeches, including "I Have a Dream," given before a crowd of 200,000 at the March on Washington in 1963. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the second child and the first son of his father, Rev. Martin Luther King, and his mother, Alberta Williams. He was accepted to Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15. In 1948, at the age of 19, he had earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. That same year he was ordained as a Baptist minister, following in the footsteps of the men in his family.
In September of 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he became the first African American to be elected student body president. While there, he attended a lecture about Mahatma Gandhi that had a profound impact on his thoughts. King began reading about Gandhi and his nonviolent approach to solving problems of social injustice. He graduated from Crozer with the highest grade point average in his class.
King then enrolled at Boston University where he met his wife, Coretta Scott. They were married by King's father in Alabama on June 18, 1953. The couple would later have four children—two girls and two boys.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. King was chosen to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which planned to boycott the transit company. Under King's encouragement, over fifty thousand African Americans boycotted the buses for over a year. The MIA tried to negotiate rules for desegregation with the bus company. In 1956, after many other court cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for Alabama state laws to segregate people on buses and other public accommodations.
Early in 1957, King helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in New Orleans, which was dedicated to winning equal rights for African Americans. He served as their president until his death. King began lecturing all over the country, gaining support for civil rights. He was becoming very well-known to the public.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a powerful speaker, motivating African Americans as well as liberal whites to challenge segregation laws and push for equality. His most famous speech is unquestionably "I Have a Dream," given on August 28, 1963. In this speech, King declared his dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
King wrote many books, the first of which was Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, published in 1958. This book outlined six principles of nonviolence, including the refusal to hate one's opponent and the willingness to accept suffering without retaliation. Next came Strength to Love in 1963, a collection of his sermons. In 1964 he wrote Why We Can't Wait, a collection of essays and letters centered on his now famous 1963 essay Letter from Birmingham Jail. In 1967 King wrote Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, which encouraged African Americans to let their voices be heard. That same year he wrote Trumpet of Conscience, a call for a nonviolent revolution.
King believed in using peaceful tactics such as sit-ins and boycotts. His incredible patience and pacifism were sparked by his studies of Gandhi. Gandhi was so important to King that in 1959 he visited India with Coretta to study Gandhian techniques of nonviolence. He was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963. The following year, at age 35, he became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
King was arrested many times; including once for speeding. He was also accused of falsifying his 1956 and 1958 Alabama state income tax returns; he was later acquitted of these charges. But the majority of his arrests were during protests or sit-ins. King felt that going to jail was a small price to pay for speaking and acting against the discrimination and segregation that plagued the African American community.
King was subjected to much violence as he became more involved and more well-known for his civil rights activism. His home was bombed in 1956, he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, and he was frequently attacked by people who were against his beliefs. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. He had given his final speech the day before, entitled "I've Been to the Mountaintop," in which he declared that although he may not be around to see it, one day there would be equal rights and opportunities for African Americans. President Jimmy Carter awarded Dr. King the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 for his work in the civil rights movement. The citation for the award read: "Martin Luther King Jr. was the conscience of his generation...His life informed us, his dreams sustain us yet." The third Monday of January was declared a national holiday in Dr. King's honor in 1986.
- Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper & Row, 1958.
- Strength to Love. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
- Why We Can't Wait. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.
- Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
- Trumpet of Conscience. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Essays and Speeches
- A Realistic Look at the Questions of Progress in the Area of Race Relations
- Beyond Vietnam
- The Birth of a New Nation
- Eulogy for the Martyred Children
- Give Us the Ballot
- I Have a Dream
- I've Been to the Mountain Top
- Letter from Birmingham Jail
- Loving Your Enemies
- MIA Mass Meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church
- Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
- Our God is Marching on
- Paul's Letter to American Christians
- Rediscovering Lost Values
- Speech at the Great March on Detroit
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ed. Cyalborne Carson. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
- Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1989.
- Drs. King and Salk Chosen to Receive Medal of Freedom. New York Times (5 Jul. 1977): 14.
- Dyson, Michael Eric. I May Not Get There With You. New York: The Free Press, 2000.
- Frady, Marshall. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Lipper/Viking, 2002.
- Garrow, David. Bearing the Cross. New York: Perennial, 1999.
- King, Coretta Scott. My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969.
- King, Martin Luther Jr. Gale Group. 2000. Biography.com. 9 September 2004. <http://www.biography.com>.
- Mikell, Robert S. King, Martin Luther Jr. The African American Encyclopedia. Ed. Michael W. Williams. Vol. 4. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993.
- Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
Civil Rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate, Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester.