Eighty-seven years ago this Friday, one of the country’s most influential civil rights activists and leaders was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1950s and 1960s who helped prompt the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2016, we remember King’s influence in rallying support for the end of segregation and associate him predominantly with his “I Have a Dream” speech. But beyond the main points we learn in school, how much do we really know about the life of this American hero whose legacy we celebrate this upcoming Monday, January 18?
Growing up, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a superior student, skipping ninth-and eleventh-grade. In 1948, King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College and began learning ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. As student body president and class valedictorian at the seminary, King was already making himself a distinguished leader. Perhaps most influential to King’s later life was his instruction from Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays, who saw Christianity as a way to bring about racial equality.
At just 25 years old, King earned a Ph.D. and became pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He was also on his way to becoming a major civil rights activist. On the December night in 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white man, King was chosen during an NAACP meeting to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King’s strong education and intelligence enlivened the boycott, and he eloquently gathered support for the cause. Eventually, Montgomery would get rid of the law requiring segregated public transportation.
In 1957, King helped to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the SCLC), which helped him to gain influence in the South and in the nation. King focused on nonviolent methods of activism, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. King had great success with the SCLC in the Birmingham Campaign, where economic and civil segregation were boycotted. In the end, Jim Crow laws were removed and public facilities became more open to blacks.
In 1964, four years before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his numerous accomplishments and contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. King’s leadership was a symbol of nonviolent approach, and the award promoted the effectiveness of using peaceful action to obtain equity.
King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement were monumental, and our country is certainly a more peaceful and accepting place because of them. It is crucial to remember nonviolent leaders who provided voices of reason, and King is at the front of that group.
This Friday, let us all remember this determined and compassionate man who made the United States more of a truly united nation.
“Martin Luther King Jr. Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2016.
Features, Vidette. “Top 5 Martin Luther King Jr. Achievements.” Videtteonline.com. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2016.