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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

1/18/2021


  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (born Michael King, Jr.) was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929.
  • In 1944, at age 15, King started attending Morehouse College, the prestigious HBCU also located in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • After graduating Morehouse in 1948, King spent the next three years attending Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania.
  • It was at Crozer that King became acquainted with the nonviolent philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi. King also sharpened his skills as an orator there, and was elected president of Crozer’s student body in 1950 though he was one of only 11 African American students at the seminary.
  • King earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951 from Crozer.
  • King then went on to Boston University where he received a doctorate in 1955. His dissertation was titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”
  • King met his future wife Coretta Scott while attending classes in Boston. They married in 1953 and went on to have four children.
  • King rose to national prominence as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which he established with other civil rights activists in 1957.
  • In 1960, King and his family moved to his native Atlanta where he and his father became co-pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
  • Under Dr. King, the SCLC used nonviolent tactics to achieve civil rights for African Americans, such as the famed March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • King’s nonviolent approach was criticized by some. Malcolm X was quoted as saying “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
  • The March on Washington took place on August 28, 1963 and culminated with King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
  • The March attracted over 250,000 demonstrators who gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to hear King’s speech.
  • The Lincoln Memorial was chosen for the end of the march instead of the Capitol building in part to convince reluctant president John F. Kennedy to endorse the march, and in part so as to not make members of Congress feel as if they were under siege.
  • King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the year following the March.
  • That year also saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which authorized the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawed discrimination in publicly owned facilities as well as employment.
  • The night before he was assassinated, King told a crowd at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
  • King was assassinated by a sniper’s bullet on April 4, 1968 in Memphis while standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
  • On March 10, 1969, James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
  • Ray later recanted his confession and claimed he had been coerced by lawyers.
  • King’s family eventually came to Ray’s defense. When Ray died on April 23, 1998, Coretta Scott King said “America will never have the benefit of Mr. Ray’s trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination…as well as establish facts concerning Mr. Ray’s innocence.”
  • While the U.S. Government still holds that Ray was the sole assassin, the killing remains a matter of controversy.

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