By: Tanya Kramer
Martin Luther King Jr. is honored every year in January for all of his contributions to the civil rights movement. His role was paramount in encouraging change and he is just one of many people who fought so hard for the cause. In honor of Black History month, we celebrate him and everyone that came before and after him to continue to fight for equality.
Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized as one of, if not the most, notable advocate for civil rights in the United States History. He promoted nonviolent resistance to effect social change and was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace in 1964 for these efforts. I think most people know he wrote the “I have a Dream ” speech, that he was a minister, and how he partnered with others in the movement as long as they practiced nonviolence.
However, you might not know that he skipped grades 9 and 12 before going to college at age 15. You may not know that he was arrested 30 times before being assassinated. Individual lives are made up of more than the key moments, and as I did a deeper dive on Martin Luther King Jr., it was clear that even at a young age he was destined for greatness one way or another.
He was born on January 15, 1928 as “Michael Luther King Jr.” to Michael Luther King Sr. and Alberta King. Both father and son had their first names changed to “Martin” so that they resemble the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther. King grew up in a stable middle class family in an area that came to be known as “Black Wall Street”. However, he was not immune to children telling him that they could not play with him due to the color of his skin, or the deep destabilizing sadness he felt when his grandmother died in 1941.
It was the summer before he entered college at age 15 where he worked in the north on a tobacco farm in Connecticut and realized the difference between the way black people were treated in the north versus the south. He had not seen black people eating with white people the way he saw this in Connecticut.
In college he initially was interested in medicine and law before deciding on the path of ministry similar to his father and grandfather.
King graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology in 1948. He went onto another 3 years of education where he got his Bachelor’s of Divinity Degree where he was introduced to the concept of nonviolence as practiced by Gandhi. He furthered his education in Boston where he received his Doctorate Degree in 1955.
It was during his time in Boston that he met Coretta Scott whom he married in 1953. Martin and Coretta had four children together and had been living in Alabama for only a year where Martin was a Pastor before Rosa Parks did not give up her seat on the bus one day. This activism evolved into the creation of the Montgomery Improvement System which aimed to boycott the transit system. Martin Luther King Jr. was installed as the leader of this organization. He remained in this position even though his home was dynamited and his family was threatened, but one year and a few weeks later the buses were officially desegregated.
As the momentum of the movement grew, Martin organized the “Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (SCLC) which gave him a larger platform to promote the concept of nonviolence. This was also where his activism started to result in an increase of arrests, the many speeches you likely remember, and eventually his assassination on April 4, 1968.
His last speech was delivered the night before he died at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, as a storm raged outside. The title of his last speech was called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”.
This speech ends with this final paragraph: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. was first observed in 1986. On this day, in the words of Dr. Bernice A King, CEO, The King Center and daughter of King said, “My father’s ultimate dream was to have people from all backgrounds come together and celebrate our differences as well as our commonalities”. You can follow this link to learn of other meaningful ways to celebrate this important day for both adults and children:
Other websites to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. :