“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
Special to the Herald-News
We just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, but how much do you really know about the man behind the holiday?
Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality in the United States. The third Monday in January marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A day that honors his legacy and urges individuals to participate in volunteer services in their communities.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Martin Luther King, Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher.
He attended segregated public schools until the age of 15 when he was admitted to Morehouse College. The college was the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather, and there he studied medicine and law.
In 1948, after graduating with his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he joined his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
He had a special gift for public speaking and he used that gift to urge an end to segregation and legal inequality. During the 382 days of the Montgomery bus boycott against segregation on transportation, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he endured personal abuse.
King was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1964 at the age of 35, he was the youngest man to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He gave the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
Throughout the 1960s, King helped organize boycotts and marches and spoke against the Vietnam War. He was arrested during nonviolent protests in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. While in jail in 1963, he wrote the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, outlining the moral basis for the civil rights movement.
Held on August 28 and attended by some 200,000 to 300,000 participants, Martin Luther King, Jr. worked with several civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices Black Americans continued to face across the country.
The March on Washington concluded with King’s most famous speech known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, a passionate call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece.
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States, he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
In the spring of 1965, King’s popularity drew the world’s attention to the violence that erupted between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, where the SCLC and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had organized a voter registration campaign.
The local violence against protestors along with a brutal police attack was shown on television and that inspired outraged Americans and supporters from across the country to gather in Alabama and take part in the Selma to Montgomery march led by King. The march was supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent in federal troops to keep the peace.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote that was first awarded by the 15th Amendment to all African Americans.
But the dream was not to last, on the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, he was fatally shot. He had traveled to Memphis in support of a sanitation workers’ strike.
After his assassination, a wave of riots occurred in major cities across the country and President Johnson declared a national day of mourning.
At his funeral, thousands of mourners marched through Atlanta behind a mule-drawn wagon bearing his coffin.
After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress, his widow Coretta Scott King, and others, in 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of King to be observed on the 3rd of January. Martin Luther King Day was first celebrated in 1986.
In 1968, Mrs. Coretta Scott King founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she dedicated to being a “living memorial” aimed at continuing his work on important social ills around the world.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University is home to the King Papers Project, a collection of King’s speeches, correspondence, and other writings.
A national memorial to MLK was built near the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.