Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The Man, The Minister, and The Champion
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Seen as a great man for all that he accomplished as an adult; his eloquence and
inspiring words, the risks he took, his charismatic leadership of people who, despite
the violence and threats to their lives, fought for civil rights and economic opportunity.
While studying for his Doctor of Divinity degree at Boston University, Martin met
Coretta Scott who was attending the New England Conservatory of Music. They were
married in 1952, one year after meeting. Do you know about his childhood, his family,
why he chose to become a minister instead of the lawyer he first thought he would be,
or the source of his nonviolence philosophy?
He was raised in a household with his father, mother, grandmother, and two siblings. The family was close knit and God fearing. He was a “Jr.” but few know he was not named Martin when he was born. His name was Michael, his father’s name. When Michael turned five, his father changed both his and his son’s name to Martin Luther. However, at home, Martin was known as “M.L.” not “Jr.” Martin loved sports and played them well, and he enjoyed dancing, too. He experienced many happy moments growing up but the saddest moment was when his best friend told Martin the boy’s white parents forbid the kid to play with him because Martin was black. At a young age, Martin had gained keen insights to the injustices blacks experienced. As a fourteen-year-old, he wrote a winning essay on fair play and free opportunity for all. Martin was intelligent and hard working. He skipped two grades in high school, entering the famous Morehouse College at the age of 15 and graduating at the age of 19.
Martin had the benefit of having a father who was a Baptist minister whose oratory inspired and moved people. Martin saw and later demonstrated the power of the spoken word, building upon the teachings at home and later, from Crozer
Theological Seminary where he was class valedictorian. Despite being raised in this very special environment, his initial thought was to go to law school. However, he discovered his passion was in church leadership. He served as a minister and coaster at his “home” church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He studied the works of Mahatma Gandhi and practiced what he learned in a violent and racist South where people of color had no rights and often were killed if they sought respect and equal treatment.
Forms of injustice took many forms including requiring black kids and white kids to go to different “separate but equal” schools. Black people could not drink from the same water fountains as white people. Black people on a bus had to either sit in the back of the bus if “colored seats” were available, or stand up giving their seats to white riders. Blacks were challenged with either difficulty to vote or no ability to vote. Blacks had no access to hotels nor could they eat in a restaurant. Their food, if served, was “to go”. Entrance to buildings, for blacks was around the side or in the back. There were virtually no legal protections for blacks against injustices perpetrated by whites.
Dr. King waded into this evil morass. His fiery oratory is reflected in everything he wrote and said. He traveled around the country speaking about injustice and civil rights; later, he linked the importance of economic equality to his message.His words, actions and deeds told a story of bravery, leadership and determination in an inconceivably hostile
environment. He went all over the country giving speeches. He gave 2,500 speeches just in the last eleven years of his life. His most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” was given before an estimated crowd of 200,000 people on “The Mall” at the Washington Monument on August 28, 1963.
He marched in peaceful demonstrations, many of which were disrupted in violence caused by angry onlookers. Yet many of the marchers were arrested, not the troublemakers. Blacks and whites joined in these marches and demonstrations, risking bodily harm and even death. Yet the marches continued in protest of bad laws and ill treatment of blacks. Dr. King was arrested 30 times. The Selma March and the Montgomery Bus Boycott give very objective evidence of the brutality people seeking change faced. As a result of Dr. King’s actions, leaders globally recognized this inspirational leader by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was just 35
Sadly, the closing chapter of his life where he sought to blend the power of economic equality and the need to assure equal treatment for all most likely led to his death. The Montgomery Bus Boycott demonstrated the power of the almighty dollar. This successful effort took a year to break the backs of the bus company there. It was a victory hatemongers did not want to see repeated. On April 4, 1968 while working with sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee to garner better pay, he was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his hotel. King gave his life for the causes in which he believed.