A famed American Baptist minister and civil rights activist known for his use of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
"An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."
Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr., an Atlanta-born Baptist minister, was one of the most revered leaders in the desegregation movement in the United States. Many credit Dr. King with being the "father" of the modern American civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)
King Jr, Martin Luther. 16" x 20". 2004. Collection of Darryl L. Lewis. Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart. West Palm Beach, FL.
King followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, attending and graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta; afterward, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in Divinity in 1951. He ultimately earned his Doctorate in Theology in 1955 from Boston University.
In 1954, King accepted a position as Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery city bus; King was instrumental in organizing and leading a boycott of the bus system. During the boycott, his home was firebombed and he was arrested. King’s role in the bus boycott catapulted him into the forefront of the national civil rights movement.
King at that time served as a member of the executive committee of the NAACP. One of the most iconic images of the 1960's came from the nonviolent protest in Birmingham, Alabama, which Dr. King led. King was arrested, and penned his famous "letter from a Birmingham jail" setting forth his philosophy regarding nonviolent protests. King wrote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King urged equality, voting rights, eradication of poverty and economic change. He was also vehemently opposed to the war in Vietnam.
In 1957, King, along with Ralph David Abernathy and others, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in order to enlist African-American churches to become involved in the desegregation movement. King was elected president of the Conference, vowing to follow his Christian faith as well as the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. King urged his followers to rely on nonviolent resistance, including protests and civil disobedience, to achieve desegregation.
Several organizations collaborated to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King was named Time Magazine's "Man of the Year;" in 1964, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech is widely considered one of the finest. His comment “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality” has become a political rallying cry.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was partially a result of the issues raised at the 1963 March on Washington. The Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, eliminated racial segregation in accommodations, education, employment, housing and voting.
Between 1965 and 1968, Dr. King began working for economic equality for all people. On April 4, 1968, King was in Memphis, Tennessee, to advocate for striking sanitation workers when he was killed by an assassin. After his death, his widow Coretta Scott King founded the King Center in Atlanta, which is dedicated to insuring King’s legacy remains relevant and that others follow his lead of non-violent change.