Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may be the most iconic African-American figure of all time. The clergyman, activist, and Civil Rights Movement leader managed to impact race relations during one of the most turbulent periods in America. His tireless devotion to promoting racial equality via peaceful means stands as an indelible footprint in the annals of Black History. Today, NewsOne honors Dr. King on what would have been his 85th birthday.
Born Michael King Jr. on this date in Atlanta to parents Rev. Michael Sr. (later Martin Luther Sr.) and Alberta, he would later change his name to reflect his father’s. One of three siblings, King was involved early on in the church as a result of his father’s ministry. Although he initially did not want to follow in religion and the teachings of his father, he later concluded that the gospel had value in his life.
A capable high school student, Dr. King skipped grades and entered the famed Morehouse College at age 15, graduating in 1948 with a degree in Sociology. Later, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. King graduated from the school with a Bachelor’s in Divinity in 1951. Two years later, he would marry Coretta Scott – who would later become an icon in her own right.
Watch Dr. King’s life story here:
At 25 years of age, King would become the head pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. The following year, in 1955, King began doctoral studies at Boston University and received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. King’s dissertation was later found to be plagiarized and nearly derailed the scope of his academic work. Although Boston University investigated and later discovered the infraction, King’s doctorate was not revoked.
King would find inspiration in theologian Howard Thurman, a former classmate of his father’s at Morehouse. Thurman’s mission work around the globe led him to meetings with noted Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King visited with Thurman, who served as his mentor often. At the time, Thurman, who is said to have been key in delivering the message of non-violent protest to the young King, also served as the dean of the Marsh Chapel at Boston University.
In 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed following the efforts and response to the “Montgomery Bus Boycott” in 1955. Rosa Parks jump started the Civil Rights Movement that same year, after refusing give up her seat to a White person. Dr. King and several other leaders joined the boycott, creating the SCLC.
With the help of Quakers, Dr. King traveled to India in 1959 to visit with Gandhi. The trip was the necessary push needed to galvanize Dr. King’s desire to employ a similar approach with non-violent disobedience protests Stateside. Activist Bayard Rustin, also a student of Gandhi’s teaching, played a huge role in planning the 1963 “March On Washington” and was a trusted ally.
Releasing just a handful of books during his lifetime, Dr. King’s written work contained nearly the entire scope of his personal and academic pursuits. “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” was released in 1958. His last work, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community,” saw a 1967 release.
During his life, King also became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in the fall of 1964, where he was recognized for his work in leading non-violent protests to combat racism during what some viewed as the zenith of the civil rights fight in America.