REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. Dr. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.
He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, DC which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia , the second child of Martin Luther King, Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher. Along with his older sister Christine and younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams, he grew up in the city’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, then home to some of the most prominent and prosperous African Americans in the country.
Dr. King’s life is well documented and scripted, but here are some facts you may not know about him.
- The final section of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eloquent and iconic speech, “I Have a Dream,” is believed to have been largely improvised.
- A gifted student, King attended segregated public schools and at the age of 15 was admitted to Morehouse College.
- After graduating from Morehouse in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, won a prestigious fellowship, and was elected president of his predominantly white senior class.
- King then enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University, completing his coursework in 1953 and earning a doctorate in systematic theology two years later.
- While in Boston, he met Coretta Scott, a young singer from Alabama who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.
- King & Coretta married in 1953 and settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
- The Kings had four children: Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice Albertine King.
The King family had been living in Montgomery for less than a year when the highly segregated city became the epicenter of the burgeoning struggle for civil rights in America, galvanized by the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP ), refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue for 381 days. The rest is well documented history. If you are not familiar with the facts of this movement, please take time to do your own research.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Dr. King.
- “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
- “The time is always right to do what is right.”
- "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
- “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we’re free at last.”
- “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”
- “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
- "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
- “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
- “Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
- “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’”
You may not know that on October 7, 1965, Dr. King came to Springfield to address the Illinois AFL-CIO at their 8th Annual Convention. Dr. King spoke at the Illinois Armory. In that speech he said the following:
- “The labor movement was the financial force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”
- “The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the Labor and Civil Rights Movement. Our combined strength is potentially enormous.”
- “And may I say to you, my brothers and sisters, that I still have faith in the future, However difficult our problems may be or however dark the day and dismal the night, I still have faith in America and in the democratic process. I still believe that by working together and through a mighty coalition of consciences we will be able to solve the problems ahead.”
How prophetic and applicable these words are today. If Dr. King could see our world fifty-six years after this speech, what words of wisdom do you think he would have? What oratorical comments would he have made about the events of January 5 and January 6, 2021? Would he applaud people like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Jamie Harrison, Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff and so many more that fought tirelessly to bring a victory to the democratic party?
I am not going to even pretend to expound upon what Dr. King may say about the 2020 election or the events on January 5-6, 2021, but I hope the passionate activists mentioned above realize that without his efforts in leading the Civil Rights Movements, the US 2021 Congress would look different. I hope that each of these individuals realize that they stand on the shoulders of and benefit from all those that fought, went to jail, and died for them (us) to enjoy the liberties we have today.
Compiled by Nell Clay, AAHM Board Member