Because Only Together We Can

About Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”

Martin Luther King Jr. Biography

Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family’s long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.

In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream”, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.



March on Washington 1963

King, his wife, Coretta Scott, and their first-born child, Yolanda, shown here at home in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956.


Jan. 15, 1929

King is born in Atlanta.

Feb. 25, 1948

King is ordained to the Baptist ministry.

June 21, 1948

King graduates from Morehouse College with a B.A. in sociology.

June 18, 1953

King marries Coretta Scott in Marion, Alabama

May 17, 1954

King visits Washington, D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court rules segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Oct. 13, 1954

King is installed as Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

June 5, 1955

King receives doctoral degree in systematic theology from Boston University.

Dec. 1, 1955

In Montgomery, Mrs. Rosa Parks refuses to relinquish her bus seat to a white man and is arrested. This incident touches off a massive bus boycott, led by King.

Dec. 21, 1956

After a successful city-wide boycott, Montgomery Bus Company announces integration of all public buses.

Feb. 12, 1957

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is founded. King is elected president. Time Magazine puts him on the cover.

April 15, 1960

King is invited to Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. After his speech, the Sudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born.

April 16, 1963

King writes the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" while imprisoned for demonstrating against the segregation of eating facilities in that city.

Aug. 28, 1963

King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the "March on Washington," the first massive national integrated protest march in America. Attended by over 260,000 people, the march brought international attention to the civil rights movement.

July 2, 1964

King attends the signing of the Public Accommodation Bill, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Dec. 10, 1964

King receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

March 21, 1965

Thousands of protesters begin the march to Montgomery, where King delivers a speech on voting rights.

Aug. 6, 1965

The Voting Rights Act is signed into law by President Johnson.

Nov. 27, 1967

King announces the formation of a "Poor People's Campaign," which helps both poor whites and blacks."

March 28, 1968

King leads protesters in a march through downtown Memphis, Tennessee, in support of striking sanitation workers.

April 3, 1968

King delivers his "I've Been to the Mountain Top" speech in Memphis.

April 4, 1968

While speaking from the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, King is assassinated by a sniper. James Earl Ray is later convicted of King's murder.

Jan. 18, 1986

President Ronald Reagan declares the first observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to be a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday of each January hereafter.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

- Martin Luther King Jr