MLK Legacy

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"I dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

March speech on Washington, August 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American pastor and Nobel laureate, one of the main leaders of the American civil rights movement and a prominent advocate of nonviolent protest was born on January 15, 1929, the second of three children. His father was a Baptist pastor and was pastor of a large Atlanta church, Ebenezer Baptist, which had been founded by Martin Luther King's maternal grandfather, Jr. Martin was ordained Baptist pastor in 18 years old.

He attended public elementary and high schools as well as the University of Atlanta's Private Lab High School. King entered Morehouse College at the age of 15 in September 1944 as a special student. He received a BS in Sociology in 1948. In the fall of that year, King enrolled at Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, PA, and received his BS in Theology three years later. King's speaking skills – which would become renowned as his stature grew in the civil rights movement – slowly developed during his college years. He won a second place prize in a speech competition while a student at Morehouse, but received Cs in two public speaking classes during his freshman year at Crozer. By the end of his third year at Crozer, however, the professors praised King for the powerful impression he had made in public speeches and discussions. King received a doctorate from Boston University in 1955. Throughout his education, King was exposed to influences that linked Christian theology to the struggles of oppressed peoples. At Morehouse, Crozer, and Boston University, he studied the teachings on nonviolent protest from Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. King also read and heard sermons from white Protestant ministers who preached against American racism. Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse and leader of the national community of racially liberal clergymen, played a particularly important role in King's theological development.

In Boston, King met Coretta Scott, a music student from Alabama. They married on June 18, 1953 and would have four children. In 1954, King accepted his first pastorship at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, a church with a well-educated congregation that had recently been led by a minister who had protested against segregation.

He had been residing in Montgomery for less than a year when Rosa Parks defied the ordinance regulating separate seats in municipal transportation. King was soon chosen as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the organization that spearheaded the bus boycott. King's serious demeanor and his constant call for Christian brotherhood and American idealism made a positive impression on whites outside of the South. Incidents of violence against black protesters, including the bombing of King's house, have drawn media attention to Montgomery. In February 1956, an MIA lawyer filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction against Montgomery's separate siege practices. The federal court ruled in favor of the MIA, ordering the desegregation of city buses, but the city government appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. For 12 months, makeshift cars replaced by public transport. At first, the bus company scoffed at the black protest, but as the economic effects of the boycott kicked in, the company sought a settlement. Meanwhile, legal action ended the bus segregation policy. On June 5, 1956, a Federal District Court ruled that the bus segregation policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from denying equal rights to any citizen. The boycott ended and it propelled a person who clearly possessed charismatic leadership, Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the time the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision in November 1956, King was a national figure. His memoirs on the bus boycott, Long strides towards freedom (1958), provided a thoughtful account of this experience and further extended King's national influence.

King, urged by prominent Southern Black Baptist ministers to assume a greater role in the struggle for black civil rights after the successful boycott, accepted the chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization black churches and ministers. which aimed to challenge racial segregation. As Chairman of SCLC, King became the dominant figure in the organization and its primary intellectual influence. He was responsible for much of the organization's fundraising, which he frequently led in conjunction with preaching engagements in northern churches.

In January 1960, he resigned his pastorate in Montgomery and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where the SCLC was headquartered. The SCLC has sought to complement the NAACP's legal efforts to dismantle segregation in the courts, with King and other SCLC leaders urging the use of non-violent direct action to protest discrimination. . These activities included marches, demonstrations and boycotts. The backlash that direct action elicited from some whites ultimately forced the federal government to confront issues of injustice and racism in the South. King's challenges to segregation and racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States.

In 1963 he wrote 'Letter from Birmingham Prison', stating that it was his moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, every year he had given his speech ' I & # 39; ve got a dream & # 39; in front of civil rights protesters at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC In 1964, King became the first black American to be honored as Time magazine's Man of the Year and also won the Nobel Prize for peace in Oslo, Norway; Accepting the award on behalf of the civil rights movement, Dr King said: “Sooner or later all the peoples of the world will have to find a way to live together in peace, and thus transform this suspended cosmic elegy into a creative psalm. of fraternity. King's efforts were not limited to securing civil rights; he also spoke out against poverty and the Vietnam War; throughout 1966 and 1967 King increasingly turned the focus of his civil rights activism across the country towards economic issues.

He began to advocate for the redistribution of the country's economic wealth to overcome entrenched black poverty. In 1967 he began planning a campaign for the poor to pressure national lawmakers to address the issue of economic justice. After his assassination on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, by a sniper, then directed named James Earl Ray and sentenced to 99 years in prison. The FBI believed King associated with the Communists and other radicals, but King became a symbol of protest in the fight for racial justice; and finally President Ronald Reagan signs a law designating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a public holiday in 1983 (the 3rd Monday in each new year).

King's nonviolent doctrine was heavily influenced by the teachings of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Unlike the vast majority of civil rights activists who saw nonviolence as a convenient tactic. King followed Gandhi's principles of pacifism. According to King, civil rights protesters, who were beaten and imprisoned by hostile whites, educated and transformed their oppressors through the redemptive nature of their undeserved suffering.

The SCLC helped students organize the Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in a meeting held at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate the protests. As a direct result of the sit-ins, food outlets across the south began to serve blacks and other public facilities were desegregated.

An important action and response interaction has developed between the government and civil rights defenders. And it is this interaction that has done so much to accelerate the pace of social change.

The most critical direct action demonstration began in Birmingham, Alabama on April 3, 1963, under the leadership of Dr King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Protesters called for fair employment opportunities, the desegregation of public facilities and the creation of a committee to plan for desegregation. King was arrested and, while in jail, wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to fellow clergymen criticizing his civilian tactics. King has been arrested more than seven times during his many civil rights campaigns across the South.

On August 28, 1963, over 250,000 Americans of various religious and ethnic backgrounds converged on Washington, staging the largest protest in the history of the nation's capital. The orderly procession moved from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where King electrified the protesters with an eloquent articulation of the American Dream (I have a Dream) and his hope that it would come true. In one of the most famous passages of the speech, King said:

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring in every village and every hamlet, in every state and in every town, we can accelerate this day when all the children of God, black and white men, Jews and not, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old spiritual Negro "Free at last. Free at last. Thank you Almighty God, we are finally free" "


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