Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Life of Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr.Image via Wikipedia

The Life of Martin Luther King Jr by Russell Shortt

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on 15 January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Interestingly, he was named after the original Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. The young King received his early education at Booker T. Washington High School; he excelled there, being allowed to enter Morehouse College at the tender age of fifteen without even formally graduating from high school.

He graduated from Morehouse in 1948 with a degree in sociology and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania from which he graduated with a Degree of Divinity in 1951. He then enrolled at Boston University, receiving his Doctor of Philosophy on 5 June, 1955. He married Coretta Scott in 1953, they began their lives in Montgomery, Alabama with King becoming pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

The civil rights leader Howard Thurman was a profound influence on the young King. Thurman had met with Gandhi and he arranged for King to meet with the Gandhi family in India in 1959, the trip was to greatly influence King's thinking, confirming his dedication to non-violent resistance. The civil rights activist Baynard Rustin further counselled King to confine his struggle entirely to non-violent means.

In 1955, Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks were arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats to white passengers. King was one of the prime organisers of the ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycott, which caused huge deficits in public transit profits. The boycott lasted or over a year and led to the United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery bus segregation laws were unconstitutional.

In 1957, King was one of the founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was created to organise the black churches into mass protests by non-violent means, King would lead the movement until his death. King was a victim of an assassination attempt in 1958; while signing copies of his book, Strive Toward Freedom, in a Harlem department store, he was stabbed in the chest by a Izola Curry and narrowly escaped death. It didn't swerve him from his vision, he continued to work tirelessly, organising and leading civil rights marches. In December 1961, King and the SCLC became involved with the Albany Movement, a group which had mobilised thousands of citizens in a wide ranging non-violent protest on all elements of segregation within the city of Albany, Georgia.

King was scooped up in a mass of peaceful protestors, he declined bail until the city made concessions, agreements were made and King accepted to be released but the authorities rescinded on all their promises. A similar campaign was embarked upon in Birmingham, Alabama in the spring of 1963; it was more successful, the movement had learned from it's past mistakes. The SCLC leant it's influential sway to similar protests in St. Augustine, Florida and Selma, Alabama in 1964.

King was also one of the prime movers in the August 1963 massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It has become one of the most seminal moments of the twentieth century, providing the indelible image of over a quarter of a million people crammed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the calm waters of the reflecting pool. It also provided humanity with some of it's most powerful rhetoric ever voiced as King delivered his electrifying I Have a Dream speech.

However, resistance against the civil rights movement and it's goals was still fierce, as evidenced by the violence meted out to protestors on a series of attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery. King and others began to realise that they would need to spread the movement further, they knew they needed to go nationwide, that is they knew that they had to motivate the North of the country. They began this phase of their resistance in Chicago, where they met equal if not more ferocious opposition as they had in the South.

In 1968, King and the SCLC organised the Poor People's Campaign to address issues of economic injustice, King began to travel the length and breath of the country in order to assemble an army of multi-racial supporters to march on Washington. Towards the end of March, King arrived in Memphis, Tennessee to support black sanitary public works employees. Horrifically, he was assassinated in the early evening of April 4, 1968. However, they could not silence him, his legacy ensured the progress of civil rights in America and indeed throughout the world.

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt,

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