Martin Luther King, Jr, 1929 - 1968

portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr
U.S. News & World Report photo by Marion S. Trikosko, 26 March 1964
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Born: 15 January 1929, Atlanta, Georgia
Died: 4 April 1968, Memphis, Tennessee

Michael King, Jr was born to Michael and Alberta King, but when the family visited Europe in 1934 the father was moved by the legacy of Martin Luther that both father and son changed their names. King attended Booker T. Washington School, skipping ninth grade and entered Morehouse College at age fifteen instead of returning for his senior year. He earned a B.A. in sociology at Morehouse, a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary at Chester, Pennsylvania in 1951, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Boston University in 1955. He married Coretta Scott in 1953, and became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church at Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. The next year, there were two cases of black women refusing to give up their seats on the bus for whites. The committee investigating the first incident decided to wait for a better case, but when Rosa Parks sat her ground in December King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted just over a year, King's house was bombed, but a federal court ordered the end of racial segregation on the buses. In 1957 King was among the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he led until his death. He played a critical part in the Birmingham, Alabama campaign starting in 1960, and was one of the leaders of the March on Washington in August of 1963; a quarter of a million attended the event, the largest gathering at Washington City to that point, and King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest recipient ever, he received over fifty honorary degrees, and numerous other honors. Although primarily focused on racial equality, King advocated for an increase in the minimum wage and an end to the Viet Nam war. Late in March of 1968 King went to Memphis, Tennessee to support black public works employees who were striking for equal treatment, delivering his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. The next day, 4 April 1968, he was shot while standing on the balcony of his hotel room. Riots broke out in over a hundred cities in protest, James Earl Ray was arrested at London Heathrow Airport two months later. Both the Lutheran and Episcopal churches list him in their calendars as a martyr, 730 cities have named streets after him, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 by Jimmy Carter, in 1986 Congress established Martin Luther King, Jr Day as a national holiday, and a memorial has been started on the National Mall.

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