Reason to celebrate: A profile of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jan. 16, 2005, midnight | By Feza Kikaya | 15 years, 9 months ago

Information compiled from The Seattle Times and Stanford University's "The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project."

Throughout history, there have been many great men and women who sacrificed their lives for a cause in which they strongly believed. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is no exception to this fact; however, his achievements are unique because he not only fought for civil rights and equality; he preached nonviolence and the importance of community service. This holiday, take the time to read about King, one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.


King, one of three children, was born Michael Luther King on Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher. He was renamed Martin at the age of six.

On Sept. 20, 1944, King began his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College. Two years later, the Atlanta Constitution published his letter to the editor stating that black people are "entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens." His article, "The Purpose of Education," was published in Morehouse's student paper, the Maroon Tiger, early in 1947. In his article, he stated, "the function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically...intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."

After spending time with scholar Dr. Benjamin Mays, King decided to enter the ministry after his graduation from Morehouse. In June of 1948, he received a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Sociology. In September of that year, he began his studies at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with the Plafker Award and J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship, both due to his outstanding coursework completion.

King deepened his understanding of theology as a graduate student at Boston University that same year, where he gained knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi's message of nonviolence for social change. He married Coretta Scott in 1953 in Marion, Alabama and in 1954 began his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.

The pastor established his grounds in the civil rights movement later that year when civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery laws, which required black passengers to sit in the rear of the city's buses. King mobilized the black community during the 382-day bus boycott and was appointed president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association. In December 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional thanks to his efforts.

Wanting to build upon the success of the ruling in Montgomery, King, with other black leaders, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 and became the organization's president. Within the group, he helped other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.

After traveling to India and gaining a better understanding of Gandhi's nonviolent strategies, King returned to the U.S. and joined his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he became co-pastor. In 1960, black college students formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after initiating sit-in protests. King supported the group and desired to make a youth branch of the SCLC; however, the students were critical of his leadership style and decided to maintain their self-governance. The pastor faced more criticism from youth in 1961 when he did not participate in the "Freedom Rides."

King's message of nonviolence was put to the test in 1963 when he was arrested during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. He wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in response to his critics. As a result of the protest in which King was involved, President Kennedy submitted extensive civil rights legislation to Congress, which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mass demonstrations led to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963 when more than 250,000 protesters gathered in D.C. There, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

King's achievements continued to expand as he became Time magazine's Person of the Year for 1963 and was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Despite his accomplishments, King continued to receive criticism. His views and tactics conflicted with Malcolm X's message of self-defense and black nationalism and with Stokely Carmichael's emphasis of "Black Power." In addition, King's opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War escalated urban racial violence and furthered resistance to his message of nonviolence, as FBI Director Edgar Hoover continued to undermine King's leadership and as tensions amounted between King and President Lyndon Johnson.

In late 1967, King focused his attentions on protesting poverty as he called for changes such as a guaranteed family income. While supporting the striking sanitation workers in Memphis the following year (people who were bargaining for union representation and long-overdue raises), King delivered his final address, "I've Been to the Mountaintop."

King was assassinated the next day on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel while standing next to Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy. His murder caused a wave of violence across the nation.

Blair students remember

Despite his death, however, his legacy remains.

Senior Sprite Gjonis remembers King as a man that "spoke with a lot of power and emotion."

Like Gjonis, sophomore Stephen Hayes recalls King's "effective speeches."

King is also remembered for his values in doing what is right. "When I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think of a man who was strong and stood up for what he believed in, no matter the costs," says senior Sheri Lawal.

For King, his fight for justice was not in vain, and his memory lives on. In 1969, his widow Coretta Scott King organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. The Lorraine Hotel is now the National Civil Rights Museum. In addition, according to The Washington Post, construction will begin in 2006 to build the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Mall in West Potomac Park on a corner of the Tidal Basin.

Visit The Washington Post here to read the full story on the memorial being built in King's honor.

For a timeline of events in King's life or for information on the "Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project" at Stanford University, click here.

Click here to view the Seattle Times' site dedicated to King.

For a list of quotations by Dr. King, click here.

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Feza Kikaya. Feza Kikaya is finally a SENIOR in the CAP program at Blair. She enjoys driving, hanging out with friends and laughing. Most importantly, Feza is counting down the days to graduation so she can begin a new chapter of her life in college. Her favorite … More »

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