Martin Luther King Jnr was one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were black preachers. He was recognised as a promising student from a young age, and graduated PhD in theology from Boston University before he was 25. He then became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Racial tension in the town was high. Black resentment at the indignities of the segregation of public transport boiled over, and in 1955 blacks began a boycott of the buses, a protest that King eventually led. There were attacks on King’s home, but in 1956 the Supreme Court ordered that buses in Montgomery be integrated. King was now a symbol of the fight by southern blacks against racial injustice. In 1957 King became president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This organisation of black clergy provided a network for the expansion of the Civil Rights Movement through many southern states.
In 1960 King moved to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Alabama to further the work of civil rights. He was committed to non-violent protest, and led his followers in sit-ins, boycotts and peaceful marches. In August 1963 King led a march on Washington of 200,000 people. In his speech at the Lincoln Memorial he demonstrated the oratorical brilliance that made him the acknowledged spokesperson on black civil rights:
The US Congress in 1964 passed the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in public places and calling for equal opportunities in employment and education. In the same year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
By 1965 King’s campaign had moved into the northern states, and he had turned his attention to the economic woes of blacks. In 1966 he led a successful protest in Chicago over discriminatory practices in rental housing. King was no longer the only spokesperson on black civil rights, and more aggressive voices were heard. King turned his attention to poverty in general and organised a Poor People’s Campaign, hoping to unite the poor of all races in the struggle for economic opportunity. He also became critical of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
King was no stranger to threats to his life, but he continued his work. He said, “I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” In March 1968 he went to Memphis to help organise a strike by mainly black garbage collectors, and was assassinated on 4 April that year. I believe he fought injustice because of his strong christian faith, he is a martyr of the civil rights movement.
BORN: 15 January 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
DIED:4 April 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.