Appendix 3     Biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Everybody is great because everybody can serve.     Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States of America. His father and grandfather were Christian ministers in the Baptist Church. His mother was a teacher who taught Martin how to read before he went to school. Martin had an older sister, Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred.

Young Martin was an excellent student in school. He skipped grades in both elementary and high school. He enjoyed singing, cycling, football, baseball and reading. When he was only fifteen years old, he began university studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and when he was only nineteen he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

After three years of study at Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity Degree in 1951. In 1953, while he was studying for his doctoral degree in Boston, King married Coretta Scott. They would have two sons and two daughters. Dr. King was ordained a Baptist minister, and in 1954 he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to work as a church minister.

As an African-American, King experienced racism early in life. Growing up, he suffered the pain of segregation. Blacks were systematically deprived of many basic rights, including voting rights. They were forbidden to share most public places with whites, including washrooms, stores, restaurants and schools. As an adult, Dr. King decided to do something to make the world a better and fairer place.

In the 1950’s, King helped generate a movement for civil rights and racial equality. He participated in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, and he led many other peaceful demonstrations that protested the unfair treatment of African-Americans. In 1957, he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide leadership for the growing civil rights movement.

Dr. King challenged economic injustice because he realized that racial equality could never be achieved without economic justice. Influenced strongly by Mahatma Gandhi, he came to believe that war and violence could never bring about justice and peace. This is why he opposed war and the use of violence for solving problems. He firmly opposed the American war in Vietnam and insisted that all protests for justice be conducted non-violently so that no one would be physically hurt. This commitment was recognized in 1964 when King became the youngest person in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martin Luther King Jr. faced numerous obstacles. His work was strongly opposed by racist organizations, and he had to contend with state laws that upheld racism, and were reinforced by armed local police. He faced threats of assassination and was subjected to physical and verbal abuse. He was arrested more than 20 times and jailed a number of times. His home was bombed.

Some black leaders criticized his approach for being too moderate because they wanted change to come about more quickly.

But tens of thousands were drawn to his work. Dr. King had the support of most blacks and a growing number of whites from around the nation. His courageous leadership and perseverance in the face of hostile opposition, combined with his insistence on non-violent methods brought about sweeping changes, including the following:

  • Numerous laws were changed to outlaw racist practices and guarantee the rights of blacks
  • African-Americans developed a new sense of pride, dignity and self-worth
  • White people were challenged to come to a deeper understanding of the founding ideals of America. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March for Freedom in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963, called for the best in every American. This speech has inspired millions.

This gifted speaker, who moved so many people to take action for justice, was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Full racial equality has yet to be achieved in the United States. But those engaged in the struggle against racism continue to look to King’s ideals and methods for inspiration and hope. Dr. King taught that we are all global citizens. It is fitting, therefore, that since his death he has become a symbol for people everywhere in the world who are struggling for equality, dignity and freedom.

In 1986, the American Congress established Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an annual national holiday.

How was one man able to exert such a profound and positive impact on history? Clearly Dr. King had established for himself a code of ethics, a set of “rules for living” that were rooted in virtue. But, more than this, he was able, in the face of enormous obstacles, to summon the courage and the perseverance to adhere to his values of equality, justice, and non-violence. In his own words, “We ain’t going to let nobody turn us around!”

Compiled by Terry Weller

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