Celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta in 1929 to teacher Alberta King and Baptist Minister Michael Luther King. He graduated high school in 1944 at age 15 and enrolled at Morehouse College, where he earned a B.A. in Sociology in 1948. Following this, King went on to earn a B.D. from Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951, and a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955.
In 1953, King married Coretta Scott, a New England Conservatory music student, and they eventually had four children. The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King was ordained in 1947, and in 1954, he became the minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
King’s legacy as a civil rights advocate began in 1955 when he led a boycott of Montgomery’s segregated city bus lines. The following year earned King a major victory and prestige as a civil rights leader when Montgomery buses began to operate on a desegregated basis. As a result of his outspoken criticism of segregation, King’s home was bombed.
King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, which gave him a base to pursue further civil rights activities, first in the South and later nationwide. In 1959, he visited India, further cultivating his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. King’s practice of civil disobedience led to his arrest on numerous occasions in the 1950s and 60s. His campaigns had mixed success. The anti-segregation protest he led in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 brought him worldwide attention: King was arrested and jailed. During his incarceration, King penned Letter from a Birmingham City Jail, which is still studied in writing and rhetoric classes today.
The August 1963 March on Washington, during which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, brought together more than 200,000 people. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the same year, King and the SCLC joined the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery made famous by police who beat and tear gassed participants. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suspended literacy tests and other restrictions that prevented blacks from voting.
King’s leadership in the civil rights movement was challenged in the mid-1960s as other civil rights leaders grew more militant. His interests, however, widened from civil rights to include criticism of the Vietnam War and a deeper concern over poverty. His plans for a Poor People’s March to Washington were interrupted by a trip to Memphis, Tenn., in support of striking sanitation workers. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
James Earl Ray, a career criminal, pleaded guilty to the murder and was convicted, but he soon recanted, claiming he was duped into his plea. Ray’s conviction was subsequently upheld, but he eventually received support from members of King’s family, who believed King to have been the victim of a conspiracy. Ray died in prison in 1998.