Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest leaders in world history. Dr. King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950s-60s, which began in the African American communities of the segregated south. Its purpose was to achieve legal equality and economic justice for all, the effects of which were felt not only in the United States, but also worldwide.
“…‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” -Matthew 22:39-40 (NET )
Dr. King’s work has transformed the lives of African Americans, women, the poor, and people of other colors and faiths in America, opening the door to greater, unprecedented opportunities for advancement in all areas of life. The purpose of the Civil Rights Movement was to establish the Constitutional and Biblical principles of equality, liberty and freedom for all in America. Dr. King’s work with the movement ignited and inspired people of other cultures and faiths worldwide in their own struggle for freedom.
A timeline of key events in the extraordinary life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. follows:
1929: Born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, GA, Martin Luther King was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers. Named Michael King at birth, King was renamed “Martin” when he was about 6 years old. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his mother, Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher, shared the Auburn Avenue home where Dr. King spent his early years with his maternal grandparents, the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams and Jeannie Celeste Williams.
1944-48: King attends Morehouse College, majoring in sociology. Although initially reluctant to follow his calling, Dr. Benjamin Mays, President of Morehouse College, showed him that a religious career could be intellectually satisfying as well as the right foundation with which to pursue the ideals of social change. Dr. King he was ordained during his final semester at Morehouse.
1951: King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University’s School of Theology. It was during his time in the Boston area where he met met and courted Coretta Scott, an Alabama-born Antioch College graduate who was then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. They married two years later.
1955: Dr. King received his doctorate from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA. He became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, making his first mark on the civil-rights movement by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city’s bus lines. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
1957: Dr. King laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was elected as its president, and he soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.
1963: In Birmingham, AL, during a non-violent protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities, police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of blacks to the nation at large. Dr. King was arrested during the protest. He wrote“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” during his imprisonment. He then became a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career to a multi-racial, multi-cultural crowd, the largest which had ever assembled there on behalf of a common cause in US history. Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963.
1964: At 35 years old, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize (see Dr. King’s original notes for his renowned Nobel Prize acceptance speech HERE). In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing.
Dr. King rallied behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam. Here, King began to also address poverty, which he saw as a fundamental connection to the cause of the war; students, professors, intellectuals, clergymen and reformers rushed into the movement as well. He called for a guaranteed family income, he threatened national boycotts, and he spoke of disrupting entire cities by non-violent “camp-ins.” With this in mind, he began to plan a massive March of the Poor on Washington, D.C., envisioning a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and downtrodden Americans.
1968: On April 4, 1968, at the age of 39, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He was felled by an assassin’s bullet as he stood with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy on the balcony of the black-owned Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, TN. The hotel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.
1983: Legislation for a Holiday honoring Dr. King was first introduced four days after Dr. King’s assassination. It was signed into law in 1983. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor, and is the only non-president memorialized on the Great Mall in Washington, DC, our nation’s capitol.
7 QUOTES FROM THE DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Today, we honor the legacy and memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with 7 of his quotes on racism, social change, and nonviolence:
- “Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life…It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably, it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.”
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now…”
- “Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
- “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense [rather] than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
- “It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission.”
“I have a 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.”
- “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
See video excerpts from the historic March on Washington below, courtesy of The History Channel.
The King Library and Archives in Atlanta is the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world. Significant records which document the social, cultural, economic and political impact of the civil rights movement are housed at the King Library and Archives, and are available online. See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/
A 2017 graphic honoring the national Martin Luther King Holiday reflects its world-wide, cross-cultural reach.