Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), was an American political activist, the most famous leader of the American civil rights movement, and a Baptist minister. Considered a peacemaker throughout the world for his promotion of nonviolence and equal treatment for different races, he received the Nobel Peace Prize before he was assassinated in 1968. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, and in 1986, Martin Luther King Day was established in his honor. King’s most influential and well-known speech is “I Have a Dream.”
In 1953, at the age of twenty-four, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the most distinguished black church in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to comply with the Jim Crow law that required her to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by King, soon followed. It lasted for 382 days, the situation becoming so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on intrastate buses and all public transport.
Following the campaign, King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization until his death. King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mahatma Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC.
The FBI began wiretapping King in 1961, fearing that communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over six years in attempts to force King out of the pre-eminent leadership position.
King organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Throughout his career of service, King wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his long experience as a preacher. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.
Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States’ role in the Vietnam War. On April 4, 1967—exactly one year before his death—King spoke out strongly against the US’s role in the war, insisting that the US was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and calling the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” But he also argued that the country needed larger and broader moral changes.
King was assassinated at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
—Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Clayborne Carson