MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. BIOGRAPHY

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. The middle child of Alberta Williams King and the then Michael King Sr., King grew under the influence of both a grandfather and a father in the ministry. Still, King wasn’t always aware of the deeper meaning of the actions that took place in church, and he ended up getting baptized at the age of five after his older sister did because he didn’t want her to “get ahead” of him.

 

King skipped the ninth and eleventh grades and graduated early to attend Morehouse College at the age of fifteen. King originally planned to study law and medicine, but Morehouse president, Dr. Benjamin Mays, influenced him to follow in the path of his father and grandfather into the ministry.

 

In 1948, King graduated from Morehouse and went to Crozer Theological Seminary. King was elected student-body president, and his hard work gained him a fellowship for graduate study and a place as valedictorian when he earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree. Before his graduation, King was inspired after hearing Howard University president Dr. Mordecai Johnson give a sermon on Mahatma Gandhi because he felt in the “emphasis on love and nonviolence…[he] discovered the method for social reform [he’d] been seeking.” 

 

For graduate school, King went to Boston University. He made a home in the South End and served as an assistant preacher at Twelfth Baptist Church, Roxbury. While completing his coursework for his doctorate in systematic theology, King found a mentor in Howard Thurman, the dean of BU’s Marsh Chapel. Thurman had visited with Mahatma Gandhi in the past and through him King learned more about Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolent resistance, which helped shape King’s philosophy on life and ways to achieve social change.

 

King met his future wife, Coretta Scott, in Boston. They were married in 1953 and had four children. In 1955, King finished his Ph.D. at the age of 25. 

 

After marriage, King moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and from his new pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he became a local leader in the community. People turned to him after Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man, in violation of the law. King helped lead a bus boycott in protest. After 381 days of the boycott and defeat of the city’s segregation ordinance in the courts, Montgomery integrated the buses.

 

In Birmingham in 1963, King continued his nonviolent resistance to fight injustices like segregation and discrimination in housing and hiring practices. One demonstration in the spring ended with the police setting dogs and fire hoses on the peaceful participants and King’s arrest. King reasserted his belief in the power of nonviolent direct action in letters from jail and when he was released he helped plan the March on Washington.  At Washington, he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, where he envisioned an America free of racial discrimination and injustice and urged all Americans to take steps to help reach that dream.

 

In Selma, Alabama in 1965, King joined with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s ongoing fight for the right to vote.  His presence brought international attention to the issue, with outcries going up after the organization’s nonviolent protest was met with violence. President Johnson sent in the National Guard for peace and later that year, the Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees voting for African Americans, was passed.

 

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as he pursued his dream of racial and economic equality for all at a sanitation workers' strike. President Johnson declared a national day of mourning, but later Coretta Scott King and others campaigned for a national holiday to be held in King’s name. The holiday was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983 and first observed in 1986.

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