Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen.

He received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta.

He was awarded a B.D. In 1951 from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania after three years of study.

He received a doctorate in 1955 from Boston University.

In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and had become a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was commuting home on Montgomery’s Cleveland Avenue bus from her job at a local department store. She was seated in the front row of the “colored section.” When the white seats filled, the driver, J. Fred Blake, asked Parks and three others to vacate their seats. The other black riders complied, but Parks refused. She was arrested and fined $10, plus $4 in court fees.

In response Martin Luther accepted leadership for a non-violent bus boycott in Montgomery. The boycott lasted 382 days. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse. On December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide leadership for the civil rights movement. From 1957 to 1968, Martin Luther traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, wrote five books and numerous articles.

In April 1963 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched a campaign to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign was designed to have mass meetings, sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and voter registrations. On April 10, the city government obtained a state circuit court injunction against the protests.

In response King declared, “We cannot in all good conscience obey such an injunction which is an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process.”

On Good Friday, 12 April, King was arrested in Birmingham after violating the anti-protest injunction and was kept in solitary confinement. During this time King wrote the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” After intervention by the Kennedy administration, Martin Luther was permitted to call home and arrange for his release which followed on April 20th.

On May 2nd more than 1,000 African American students attempted to march into downtown Birmingham, and hundreds were arrested. When hundreds more gathered the following day, Commissioner Connor directed local police and fire departments to use force to halt the demonstrations. During the next few days children were blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers, and attacked by police dogs. The images appearing in national media resulted in outrage.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent Burke Marshall, his chief civil rights assistant, to facilitate negotiations between prominent black citizens and representatives of Birmingham’s business leadership. Eventually an agreement was reached that included the removal of “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only” signs in restrooms and on drinking fountains, a plan to desegregate lunch counters, an ongoing “program of upgrading Negro employment,” the formation of a biracial committee to monitor the progress of the agreement, and the release of jailed protesters on bond.

Birmingham segregationists responded to the agreement with a series of violent attacks. President Kennedy ordered 3,000 federal troops to Birmingham and prepared to federalize the Alabama National Guard. On September 15th, Ku Klux Klan members bombed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls. King delivered the eulogy at the funeral of three of the victims, preaching that the girls were “the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.”

On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 Marched on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. During this event, Martin Luther delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, where they discussed the need for bipartisan support of civil rights legislation eventually resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1964, at the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.