Sunday, January 18, 2009
Getting to know Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an African American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States and he is frequently referenced as a human rights icon today.
A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, serving as its first president.
King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.
In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. national holiday in 1986.
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's father was born "Michael King", and Martin Luther King, Jr., was originally named "Michael King, Jr.", until the family traveled to Europe in 1934 and visited Germany. His father soon changed both of their names to Martin in honor of the German Protestant Martin Luther. He had an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother Alfred Daniel Williams King. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. He skipped ninth and twelfth grade, and entered Morehouse College at age fifteen without formally graduating from high school. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. King then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Doctor of Philosophy on June 5, 1955. A 1980s inquiry concluded portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly but that his dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship".
King married Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. King and Scott had four children; Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he was twenty-five years old in 1954.
Martin Luther King Day
Main article: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. Observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, it is called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Following President George H. W. Bush's 1992 proclamation, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year, near the time of King's birthday. On January 17, 2000, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all fifty U.S. states.
Awards and recognition
King was awarded at least fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the U.S. and elsewhere. Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 King was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty". Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free". King was also awarded the Pacem in Terris Award, named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII calling for all people to strive for peace.
In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for "his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity." King was posthumously awarded the Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights by Jamaica in 1968.
In 1971, King was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for his Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam. Six years later, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to King by Jimmy Carter. King and his wife were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
King was second in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People in the 20th century. In 1963 King was named Time Person of the Year and in 2000, King was voted sixth in the Person of the Century poll by the same magazine. King was elected third in the Greatest American contest conducted by the Discovery Channel and AOL.
More than 730 cities in the United States have streets named after King. King County, Washington rededicated its name in his honor in 1986, and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007. The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is named in honor of King. King is venerated as a saint by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (feast day April 4) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (feast day January 15).
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Martin Luther King, Jr. on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.