Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and graduated as the valedictorian of Crozer Theological Seminary of Chester, PA in 1951. King became a pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954 to 1960. The Church was the backbone of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is regarded as the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. On Dec. 1, 1955, with events surrounding the news of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a Caucasian man, King was chosen to lead the city-wide boycott. On Nov. 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately order the City of Montgomery to integrate its bus system.
Two years later, King and a group of Civil Rights activists formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to conduct non-violent protests for Civil Rights.
Inspired by Gandhi’s activism, King worked with the SCLC to organize African American voters and Civil Rights protests. In 1963, King was arrested at a march in Alabama. During his incarceration, King hand-wrote in the margins of newspapers what would become known as his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. In his first book, “Stride Toward Freedom”, King wrote: “The Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhi method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
King was first introduced to the concept of non-violence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience” as a freshman at Morehouse College of Atlanta, Georgia.
On Aug. 28, 1963, King led more than 20,000 people in a massive demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, where his speech “I Have a Dream” became a defining moment in Civil Rights history. Through his work, King helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” In the following year, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created laws that prohibited voter discrimination. General prohibition of discriminatory voting laws prohibit any jurisdiction from implementing a voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race, color, or language of minority status.
On April 4, 1968 at 6:01 p.m CST, the day after his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, King was shot while standing on the second-story balcony to his motel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when the bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m at age 39.
King would be 93 today.