Today, we take time to honor the memory of one of the most respected civil rights activists of all time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s hard to think about the civil rights movement and not bring up Martin Luther King Jr. in the topic of discussion because he was a major influence and healer to our nation. We want to review the history of this great man, so that we can see how far we have come and just how much further we must travel.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Early History
Born in Atlanta, Ga on January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther king Jr. greeted the world as the first son born into the King family. His father was a reverend and his mother was a choir leader in their church, and Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent part of this community. In his youth, he befriended a neighbor, who was white, and they were segregated from one another when they started primary school. King had several traumatic events happen over the course of his childhood, like abuse at the hands of his father and his own suicide attempt after his maternal grandmother’s death.
Martin Luther King Jr. attended Morehouse College, one of the most prestigious black colleges in the country. A fun fact, he attended college at the age of 15 through an early entrance exam, and at 18 he decided he wanted to enter the ministry. At 19, he received his BA in sociology and then switched gears to attend Crozer Theological Seminary, in Pennsylvania. He graduated at 22 with his B. Div degree and had the full support of his family through the entire process.
Martin Luther King Jr. the Civil Rights Activist
Rosa Parks, in 1955, made history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a
Montgomery bus per Jim Crow laws. King lead a protest planned by Nixon, and this demonstration lasted a total of 385 days. King was arrested and had his house bombed through the protest, and due to his arrest was catapulted as a national spokesman in the civil rights movement. King was instrumental in forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which was responsible for uniting the power of black churches through nonviolent protests. King was the leader of this conference until his assassination and spoke nationally for the first time at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.
Many other campaigns are associated with King, but the Birmingham campaign is one of the most notorious. King wanted to protest racial segregation and organized sit-ins, marches, and other nonviolent demonstrations. King was trying to incite mass arrests so that the city
would be in a state of chaos and would have to negotiate with the prisoners, however this wasn’t the case. The police department used police dogs and water cannons against all the protesters which included children. This struggle between protesters and police became violent in some cases, but King’s goal was reached when Jim Crow signs were removed and black Americans had more liberties. While arrested during this campaign, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote one of his most famous pieces his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
Martin Luther King Jr. Had a Dream
Through all his civil rights campaigns, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered many speeches, but none were as famous as his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1963, during his March on Washington, King marched up to the Lincoln Memorial and delivered this infamous speech. The march was an effort to end racial segregation of schools, and to encourage reasonable minimum wage for all workers. The "I Have a Dream" speech is still considered one of the finest American speeches of all time.
Martin Luther King Jr. was supporting a strike in Memphis, Tennessee when he was shot at his motel by James Earl Ray in 1968. King went into the hospital for emergency surgery, but it was unsuccessful and he died at the age of 39. His death led to many riots across the nation, but many civil rights leaders condemned the violent protests due to King’s legacy of nonviolent campaigns. Still, to this day, the name Martin Luther King Jr. evokes a sense of pride and loss in our country for a great man who shaped so many lives and futures.We would love to hear how you are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in your classroom. Share with us how you shared this man’s legacy in the comments below!