From New World Encyclopedia
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King addressing the press in 1964. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) was America's foremost civil rights leader and is deemed by many as the greatest American leader of the twentieth century. His leadership was fundamental to ending legal segregation in the United States and empowering the African-American community. A moral leader foremost, he espoused non-violence as the means to bring about political change, emphasizing that spiritual principles guided by love can triumph over politics driven by hate and fear. He was a superb orator, best known for his "I Have a Dream" speech given at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
At age 39, he was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s impact and legacy was not limited to the U.S., but was worldwide, including influencing the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He is only one of three Americans to have a national holiday, and the only African-American.
From the halls of the highest scholasticism to the valleys of the deepest and most pragmatic activism, Dr. King combined the qualities that propelled him to world-figure-hero status during the course of his life. No other scholar-activist, except possibly Mahatma Gandhi, did as fine a job of descending from the lofty level of the ivory tower and walking among the masses, meeting them at their level, giving voice to their yearnings, and exemplifying the common touch. Comfortable in his own skin and confident in the righteousness of his cause, King still grappled daily with the doubts, struggles, and temptations that inevitably burden all leaders. Stephen B. Oates tells us that:
Like everybody, King had imperfections: he had hurts and insecurities, conflicts and contradictions, guilts and frailties, a good deal of anger, and he made mistakes. …his achievements… were astounding for a man who was cut down at the age of only 39 and who labored against staggering odds—not only the bastion of segregation that was the American South of his day, but the monstrously complex racial barriers of the urban North, a hateful FBI crusade against him, a lot of jealousy on the part of rival civil-rights leaders and organizations, and finally the Vietnam War and a vengeful Lyndon Johnson. King was all things to the American Negro movement—advocate, orator, field general, historian, fund raiser, and symbol. Though he longed to be a teacher and scholar on the university level, he became instead a master of direct-action protest, using it in imaginative and unprecedented ways to stimulate powerful federal legislation that radically altered Southern race relations.
Despite his flaws, King maintained an attitude of public-minded, self-sacrificial service, which was the hallmark of both his impressively enlightened Christian faith and his lifestyle of prayer, perseverance, and contemplation.
Did you know?
Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work to end racial segregation through nonviolent means; at the time he was the award's youngest recipient
Before the end of his life, he had (1) become the third black and the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize; (2) established himself as the chief architect and premiere spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement of 1955-1968—an authentically religious revival, the socio-political impact of which was unprecedented in human history; (3) been jailed for a total of twenty-nine times, in the name of freedom and justice; (4) witnessed, first hand, the death of the wickedly racist Jim-Crow system of legal segregation in the South; and (5) led the Civil Rights struggle on its march toward inspiring the United States of America to earnestly practice the truths found in the Bible, which stands as the cornerstone of its republican form of government. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter, in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. In 1986, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Day was established in his honor. King's most influential and well-known public address is his world-renowned "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963.
Through intense study and masterfully systematic thought, King successfully merged his intimate knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, and other documents, with his strikingly insightful, biblical worldview. As a result, he ultimately forged within himself an undying love for America and a passion for its destiny. That passion fueled his vision and instilled his being with a flaming religious commitment. It was this committed life that made it possible for him to become both a sterling example of sacrificial leadership and a providential instrument of the most noble Judeo-Christian ideals. And it was that model of leadership that fueled the Civil Rights Movement in its nearly successful effort at inciting a Christian Revolution within the borders of the United States.
Birth, early life, and education
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child and first son of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and Mrs. Alberta Williams King. Reverend King—the boy's father—was pastor of black Atlanta's historical, influential, and prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church. As such, the Rev. King was likewise a pillar in Atlanta's black middle class. He ruled his household with a fierceness not unlike that of an Old Testament patriarch, and he provided a lifestyle in which his children were disciplined, protected, and very well provided for. By the Reverend King's decree, his son (Martin Luther King, Jr.), during the course of his youth, went by the name "M.L." A strong and healthy newborn, M.L. had been preceded in birth by his sister, Willie Christine, and was followed by his brother, Alfred Daniel, or A.D. Within the context of his rearing, and because he was his father's son, the church was M.L.'s second home. It functioned as the hub around which the wheel of King family life rotated. And the sanctuary was located only three blocks away from the big house on Auburn Avenue. Having been slipped, by his parents, into grade school a year early, and having been bright and gifted enough to skip a number of grades along the way, M.L. entered Booker T. Washington High School in 1942, at the age of 13. Two years later, as an exceptional high school junior, he passed Morehouse College's entrance exam, graduated from Booker T. Washington after the eleventh grade, and, at the age of 15, enrolled in Morehouse. There, he was mentored by the school's president, civil rights veteran Dr. Benjamin Mays. King graduated from Morehouse in 1948, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. He subsequently enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was elected student-body president, and from where he later graduated as class valedictorian, with a Bachelor of Divinity degree, in 1951.
In 1955, he received a Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston University. Thus, from the age of 15 until 26, King embarked upon a pilgrimage of intellectual discovery. Through it, he systematized a religious and social worldview, characterized by unusually striking insights and by an unshakable adherence to the power of nonviolence and redemption through unearned suffering.
Marriage and family life
Following a whirlwind, 16-month courtship, Martin Luther King, Jr., married Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953. King's father performed the wedding ceremony at the residence of Scott's parents in Marion, Alabama.
Martin and Coretta Scott King were the parents of four children:
Yolanda Denise (b. November 17, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama; d. May 15, 2007)
Martin Luther III (b. October 23, 1957, Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Scott (b. January 30, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia)
Bernice Albertine (b. March 28, 1963, Atlanta, Georgia)
All four children followed in their father's footsteps as civil rights activists, although their opinions differ on a number of controversial issues. Coretta Scott King passed away on January 30, 2006.