Martin Luther King Junior was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King Junior (originally Michael Luther King Junior) was born in Atlanta (Georgia), on January 15, 1929. His mother, Alberta King, was a schoolteacher and his father, Martin Luther King, was a Baptist minister.
King studied theology and received his Doctorate degree in 1953. Nearly a year after, he moved to Montgomery (Alabama) to preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, with his newly-wed wife, Coretta Scott.
2. The Civil Rights Movement
At this time, Black (“colored”) people had not the same rights as other people. They were denied the right to vote, to decent housing, to sit elsewhere than at the back of the buses…
a. Boycott and first legal victory
An event would lead King to create the Civil Rights Movement. On December 1, 1955, a Black seamstress, Rosa Parks, refused to give her seat to a white person on a bus and was arrested. King organised the boycott of the public buses in Montgomery. The people who refused segregation were attacked or threatened. On January 30, 1956 King’s house was bombed.
After one year of boycotting the bus system, the Supreme Court declared that the Alabama state segregation law was unconstitutional. That was a great legal victory but it took many years before things really changed.
In 1957, for instance, President Eisenhower had to call 1,000 soldiers to escort 9 Black students and restore order in the previously all-White Central High in Little Rock (Arkansas). In 1962, two people were killed and many more injured as James Meredith was enrolled as the first Black at the University of Mississippi!
b. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, Black ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King became its President. The aim of the SCLC was to fight against segregation: this was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
After a year of travelling and demonstrating across the country, King continued to organise non-violent protests against unequal treatment. Contrary to Malcolm X who encouraged people to be violent, King advocated peace.
In 1958, King published his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, which deals with his recollections of the Montgomery bus boycott.
c. “I have a dream” speech
On August 23, 1963, 250,000 people gathered in Washington D.C and marched to the Capitol Building to support the passing of laws that guaranteed every American equal civil rights. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.
3. Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King’s assassination
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act which guaranteed equal rights in housing, public facilities, voting and public education, was passed. That year, King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated by James Earl Ray. His death did not slow down the Civil Rights Movement. His widow, Coretta, continued to fight for freedom with Black and White people.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared the third Monday in January a federal legal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. King is the only Afro-American to have a legal holiday in America.