His legacy, summed up, is peace and love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. truly wanted the world to be a better place. All of the things he did, the things he was involved in were a reflection of that.


His life began on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia where he was born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. (1899–1984) and Alberta Williams King (1904–1974). From as early as age six, he began to notice the unnecessary injustices in American society caused by fear and ignorance. One of his first friends, who was White, was taken from him by such notions, as the boy’s father forbade them to play together once they started school.



He became skeptical after that, he once said, of some of Christianity’s tenets. However he said, the Bible has "many profound truths which one cannot escape" and decided to enter the seminary. Before then, in high school, King was becoming known for his public speaking skills as part of Booker T. Washington High’s debate team. He also became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942 when he was 13.




During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin, Georgia. But returning home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. King initially refused, but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not submit. King said that during this incident, he was "the angriest I have ever been in my life.


During King's junior year in high school, Morehouse College, a respected historically black college, announced that it would accept any high school juniors who could pass its entrance exam. At the age of 15, he passed the exam and entered Morehouse.  The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry. He had concluded that the church offered the most assuring way to answer “an inner urge to serve humanity.”


And, serve he did.


The Bus Boycott / Civil Rights Movement


In the 1950s, when fellow activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a White person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, King helped kick of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After the Supreme Court overturned Alabama’s bus segregation laws in 1956, King co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and promoted nonviolent action for civil rights throughout the South. He was influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and traveled to India in 1959.


Letter From a Birmingham Jail / I Have a Dream


The young King continued to use his voice throughout the 1960s in America, to speak out against segregation, violence and racism. In 1963 he was involved with coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The nonviolent campaign was coordinated by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). On April 10, Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins issued a blanket injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." But leaders of the campaign announced they would disobey the ruling.  King was arrested with SCLC activist Ralph Abernathy, ACMHR and SCLC official Fred Shuttlesworth and other marchers.


The protesters experienced hard conditions in the jail. An ally smuggled in a newspaper from April 12, which contained “A Call for Unity”: a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods. The letter provoked King, and he began to write a response on the newspaper itself. King writes in Why We Can't Wait:


“Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly black trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me.”


In 1963, King delivered his most famous and notable speech: “I Have a Dream”, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He presented America with a call to consciousness… asking America to acknowledge the discontent of African Americans mired in poverty and its debilitating effects.


“We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied,’” he said.


“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.


“We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters  and righteousness like a mighty stream…”


King left a lot for America to ponder. He campaigned for the poor, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden. He was loved, because his heart was open to loving and helping people, some of the same people who did not want to be exposed to his light. On March 29, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the black sanitary public works employees, who were represented by AFSCME Local 1733.


The workers had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.


On April 3, King addressed a rally and delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address at Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. King's flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. 


Notably, are words here, from the last speech of King’s life:




“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?




“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. So 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…”



King was fatally shot at 6:01 p.m., April 4, 1968, as he stood on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. A bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. After emergency chest surgery, King died at St. Joseph's Hospital at 7:05 p.m.




Just days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Internationally, King’s legacy includes influences on the Black Consciousness Movement and civil rights movement in South Africa. King’s work was cited by and served as an inspiration for South African leader Albert Lutuli, who fought for racial justice in his country and was later awarded the Nobel Prize.

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