Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the eldest of Martin
Luther King, Sr., a Baptist minister, and Alberta Williams King. His Father served as a
pastor of a large Atlanta church, Ebenezer Baptist, which had been founded by Martin
Luther King, Jr.'s maternal grandfather.
King, Jr., was ordainded as a Baptist minister at
King attended local segrated public school, where he excelled. He entered a
nearby college, Morehouse College, at age 15 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in
sociology in 1948.
After graduating with honors from Crozer Theological Seminary in
Pennsylvania in 1951, he went to Boston University where he earned a doctoral degree in
systematic theology in 1955.While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott, a music student and native of Alabama.
They were married in 1953 and had four children. In 1954 King accepted his first
pastorate at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Mongomery, Alabama.
This was a
church with a well educated congregation that had recently been led by a minister who had
protested against segregation.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lead many of the peaceful demonstrations protesting
the segregation between blacks and whites.
His peaceful approach to many of the
obstacles in the way of integration was the most successful during that time period. Other
more violent means of protest such as the efforts of Malcom X and whites protesting
integration were considered less seriously and seen as a greater threat to society.
Examples of King's peaceful protesting against segregation were during the 1955- 1956
Montgomery bus boycott. It begain when a 43 year old black woman, Rosa Parks, refused
to give up her seat to a white man. Dr.
King was appalled when she was arrested and
urged the black population of Montgomery to join together and stand up to the
dehumanization of segregation. Together with local community leaders, King produced
and distributed nearly 7,000 leaflets persuading blacks to completely avoid riding to buses
work, town, school, or elsewhere. Instead, people should take cabs, carpool, or walk.
King was worried that the boycott was unethical, would turn violent, or would intimidate
blacks However the boycott was succsessful with nearly 100% participation level.
In 1956 the Supreme court affirmed a decision declaring that state and local laws
supporting segregation on buses were unethical. On December 1, city busses were
integrated showing that the boycott had been sucsessful.
The civil rigths movement took a
big step forward during the Greensboro sit-ins. Each day of the sit-ins the number of
participants increased. The pressure they put on Woolworths, their original target, caused
profits to be decreased by 50% in 1950. Eventually on July 25, the first black person was
allowed to eat at the lunch counter. These sit-ins also caused the formation of crucial
Student Non-violent Coodinating Commitee (SNCC) was founded by the
students involved in the sit-ins. SNCC drafted a code to be used by the entire non-violent
movement. Some of the points in the code included don't strike back, don't laugh out,
don't hold converstaions with floor walkers, and remember love and non-violence Though
King was not directly involved in the sit-ins, he was the moral leader and inspiration for
the whole movement. Knowing King's strong belief in equality and intergration, when
Philip Randolph planned The March on Washington he asked King to organize and speak
at the event. The purpose of the demonstration was to demand strong federal protection
of black rights and to inspire the people.
Other unsucsessful demonstrations had been
planned in the past but failed due to the use of militant, more violent means of protest.
Many government officials were strongly against The March on Washington, fearing it
would become a sit- in. King convinced them it would be only a "Peace Pilgrimage." The
idea was encouraged by the black and white anti-segregation population and on August
28,1963 over 200,000 supporters surrounded the reflecting pool to hear King, among
others, speak. People of all different ethnic and religious groups were greatly inspired by
As quoted in Blumberg p123, "Never before had leading representatives, of the
Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths identified so closely and visibly with black
demands." Martin Luther King Jr's approach to protesting against segregation was
effective because of his use of passive resistance. His demonstrations appeared to be
serene, but underneath they were strong enough to stand up to bitter oponents such as the
Klu Klux Klan and the local police. Violence and hate were constantly expressed towards
King and his followers, but they rose above the madness in an effort to work for equality
and unity - peacefully.
Martin Luther King, Jr. led many non-violent protests which stated to the public
the need for equality for black Americans, all of these protests recommended to both
blacks and whites how to improve the condition of blacks in America. The Montgomery
Bus Boycott, related protests in Birmingham, and the March on Washington are all
peaceful ways King communicated his beliefs and ideas to the public. One of Martin
Luther King Jr's. most famous peaceful protests was the March on Washington.
the march, King gave his well-known, "I Have A Dream" speech. He stated to the people
of the United States of America that there was a need to end all forms of discrimination
and segregation. The content of the march essentially demand the passage of the Kennedy
Administration's Civil Rights Package -"without compromise or filibusters", the
integration of all public schools by the end of this year, a federal program to "train and
place all unemployed workers, negroes or whites, in meaningful and dignified jobs at
decent wages", and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act excluding all job
discrimination. All four of these goals have been accomplished in the past 32 years,
bringing the blacks to nearly equal society of the whites.
The events occuring in Alabama were an important movement headed by King to
stop segregation. The wave of protests began in Albany, Georgia in 1961 for equal rights
among blacks and whites. They reached a peak in the Spring of 1963 when a series of
demonstrations occured in Birmingham led by King and many other civil rights leaders.
Such demonstrations were held at lunch counters and other sites to protest racial
City police attacked the peaceful demonstrators with police dogs and high-
powered fire hoses. There were many arrests including King himself. It was at this time
that King wrote his famous "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" which set forth his theory of
nonviolent direct action. The Selma to Montgomery march of 1965 also led by King
furthered the passage of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Although the Voting Rights
Movement in Mississippi made slow progress, the civil protests in southern urban centers
achieved important gains. King's dream became a partial reality when, in 1965, another
series of protests in Selma prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to introduce new
voting rights legislation, which was passed in that summer. It had a dramatic impact on
black voter registration.
In Mississippi, the percentage of blacks registered to vote increased seven percent
in 1964 to fifty-nine percent in 1968. Martin Luther King's approach to gaining civil rights
for black America was very effective. His use of non- violent means accomplished the
dream in which he envisioned. King's dream that "little black boys" and "little white boys"
will be able to go to school together. Today many blacks recieve the same educational
oppertunities and occupational equality.
King used a more advanced way of protest, the
non-violence movement. This movement which used tactics such as civil disobedience and
boycotting. Sit-ins, passing legislation and use of the press and media were also effective
ways of protest. The Montgomery Bus boycott in 1955 was the first of many effective
ways that Martin Luther King, Jr . protested the racism in the South. The March on
Washington of 1963 was one of the most influential means of protest that America has
In an act of unwitting martyrdom, even King's death brought about passing of
important legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of '68 and the Fair Housing Act of '69.
On the opposite side of the this issue was Malcom X. Although their goals were the same,
the means in which they tried to achieve them were quite different. Malcolm believed in
"any means necessary" to stop racism. He proposed the destruction of the white middle
class. These protests by Malcom X did not achieve nearly the same results, as they would
have if he supported non-violence.
Martin Luther King was the most important figure in the Civil Rights Movement.
His non-violent methods sparked the passage of many important pieces of legislation such
as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The methods of King
contrasted greatly with those of other civil rights leaders who believed violence was a
viable answer to racial injustice. Conversely, King's non-violent and legal methods of
protest made him the most productive and respected leader in the quest for racial equality
tracing all the way back to the Civil War era.
Martin Luther King, Jr's "Dream" has not yet
become a total reality. African Americans have gained some social equality, however;
blacks have not been fully recognized as an accepted group of people in the American
society. Also, African Americans continue to struggle against stereotypes placed upon
them because of the poverty in the inner cities. Since the 1950's and the 1960's, there have been
many changes in how African Americans have been accepted by the white majority. In the
1960's, blacks had to fight for many freedoms as citizens.
Blacks were considered by
whites to be less of a person than a white was. The black race was fighting for their
equality. African Americans were fighting to stop segregation in schools, and they were
trying to gain voting rights. During the non-violent movement, blacks were forced to
suffer police brutality and the violation of other constitutional rights. In the 1990's, the
standard of living has been greatly improved.
Although we as a society have a long way to
go and still face many problems dealing with economic standards, political power and
some discrimination, much of King's dream has started to become a reality.