“Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, and my daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a vital figure of the modern era. His lectures and dialogues stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation. The movements and marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life through his courage and selfless devotion. This devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities. His charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, in this nation and around the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King entered Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, as he skipped his ninth and twelfth high school grades without formally graduating. In 1948 he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1951 King began doctoral studies in Systemic Theology at Boston University, and received his Ph.D. in 1955.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s maternal grandparents were the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents were James Albert and Delia King, sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.
At the age of five, Martin Luther King, Jr. began school, before reaching the legal age of six, at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta. When his age was discovered, he was not permitted to continue in school and did not resume his education until he was six. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high scores on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen.
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected President of the Senior Class and delivered the valedictory address. He won the Peral Plafkner Award as the most outstanding student, and he received the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951.
In September of 1951, Martin Luther King, Jr. began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” was completed in 1955, and the Ph.D. degree was awarded on June 5, 1955.
He married Coretta Scott, the younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurry Scott of Marion, Alabama, on June 18, 1953. The marriage ceremony took place on the lawn of the Scott’s home in Marion, Alabama. The Rev. King, Sr. performed the service, with Mrs. Edythe Bagley, the sister of Coretta Scott King as maid of honor, and the Rev. A.D. King, the brother of Martin Luther King, Jr., as best man.
During his childhood days he had experienced racial discriminations.
His mother confronted the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child. She taught him that he should feel a sense of “somebodiness” but that on the other hand he had to go out and face a system that stared at him in the face every day saying he is “less than,” he is “not equal to.” She told him about slavery and how it ended with the Civil War. She tried to explain the divided system of the South—the segregated schools, restaurants, theaters, housing; the white and colored signs on drinking fountains, waiting rooms, lavatories—as a social condition rather than a natural order. She made it clear that she opposed this system and that he must never allow it to make him feel inferior. Then she said the words that almost every Negro hears before he can yet understand the injustice that makes them necessary: “You are as good as anyone.” At this time his mother had no idea that the little boy in her arms would years later be involved in a struggle against the system she was speaking of.
His parents would always tell him that he should not hate the white man, but that it was his duty as a Christian to love them. The question arose in his mind: How could I love a race of people who hated me and who had been responsible for breaking me up with one of my best childhood friends? This was a great question in his mind for a number of years.
King organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
King and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out in often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent. King and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful protest movement in Albany, in 1961 & 1962, where divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts; in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963; and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. King and the SCLC joined forces with SNCC in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for a number of months.
Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Dr. King was in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable working conditions. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968, and returned to Memphis, Tennessee on July 19, 1969 to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.
“We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a healthy nation with one-tenth of the people ill-nourished, sick, harboring germs of disease which recognize no color lines—obey no Jim Crow laws. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime. We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flout the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. We cannot come to full prosperity with one great group so ill-delayed that it cannot buy goods. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
African Americans are the most segregated group in U.S. society. There are many ways to measure segregation, but the most common way is to look at housing and residential areas, calculating the amount of ethnic concentration in geographical areas. Blacks are also extremely overrepresented in city public housing developments. One concern about this problem has to do with health issues. The infant mortality rate for blacks in America is one of the highest in the world, higher than any industrialized country, and higher even than some third world countries. Black children in the 1-4 age range have mortality rates twice that of white children. Black teenagers have mortality rates 10 times that of whites, and homicide is a leading cause of death. Black adults have a mortality rate 30 to 40% more than whites. The death rates may have something to do with the fact that, percentage-wise, there are fewer blacks now in America than during slavery.
As the most visible minority group in America, African Americans stand out. Although skin color is genetic, in a sociological sense it’s a master status. The prejudice comes easy because black and white are instantly perceived as opposite colors. The problem comes in when characteristics like visible skin color are taken as indicators of quality, quality of housing, quality of service, quality of product, etc. Whether we’re talking about neighborhoods, restaurants, swimming pools, or department stores, there’s always the suspicion that “the grass is greener on the other side”. Whites automatically suspect inferior quality wherever black-skinned faces are found, and blacks automatically suspect superior quality wherever white-skinned faces are found. It’s more than just product placement, marketing, and consumer habit. It’s our common law.
There are ways to eliminate discrimination. One is the awareness of the government; this institution must do drastic moves in order to eliminate discrimination. Like what Martin Luther King Jr. did, he fought for the right of black Americans. Rights of an individual do not depend on the color of the skin or his status in the society. We must be aware that every individual has a human right. And the government must protect those rights. There will be harmony in community if every individual shows understanding and respect one another.
I am glad that somewhere somehow a Martin Luther King Jr., do exist in order to enlighten the mind of people regarding racial discrimination. I am very much thankful because he allows us to understand other individual despite of his skin color, origin and others.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). Edited by Carson,
Clayborne. Warner Books. 1998. New York.