Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)
Background and Context
Martin Luther King Jr. was born as Michael Luther King Jr. into Christian family in Atlanta, Georgia on 15th January 1929. Later, his father changed his name to Martin to honor German Protestant leader Martin Luther. His father was a Baptist minister, and his maternal grandfather was also a Baptist pastor for a long time. King also served in the Baptist church as co-pastor until his death by assassination in Memphis, Tennessee on 4th April 1968.
King was known as one of the eloquent speakers of American civil rights movement. He led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s. During that time, he raised voice against racial discrimination in America, especially for African-America. In his time, there was hardly a black leader in the country. However, his dynamic leadership succeeded to attract the attention of the world. He led a mass of hundreds of thousands of people against racial discrimination and segregation law.
He helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was elected as the first president of the conference. Basically, the organization was formed to raise the issues of social justice. Through the organization came the leadership to the newly emerging civil rights movement. King had better understanding of the power of nonviolent actions and love. So, the ideas of organization on leading the massive protest was based on Christianity, but the operational techniques were more alike Mahatma Gandhi of India. King directed the massive March on Washington D.C. in 1963 where he delivered “I have a dream” speech in Lincoln Memorial to 250,000 people. Thus, he established himself as one of the famous orators in the history of the United States. At the age of thirty-five, King became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his personal effort to remove the racial barriers, discrimination, and segregation through nonviolent and civil disobedient movements.
It is said that the Southern black preaching and ministry deeply formed King besides his honor degrees from Boston University where he held a Ph.D. At the same time, contemporary Protestant theologians like Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr also inspired King for shaping him in spiritual life. He believed that God is active and personal, and God’s guidance is indispensable. As a result, he was able to lead his people for their rights to live with dignity and in sovereignty in America.
Although there were threats of violence against his family and him, King never held back his steps, rather he became more vigorous to address issues of injustice, exploitation, and discrimination all around nation. As a consequence of discrimination to African-American on public buses, they boycotted the public buses to end the deadlock of inequality and injustice in Montgomery in Alabama on 21 December 1956. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for 382 days. Finally, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered the law that ended the segregation between black and white and established equality.