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Martin Luther King

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MLK Day

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Reverend, Civil Rights Leader, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Overview:

At age 35, Martin Luther King, Jr., became the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. A follower of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, King is one of the world's best-known modern advocates of nonviolent social change. He was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963.

Background:

Martin Luther King, Jr. (15 January 1929 - 4 April 1968) was born in Atlanta as Michael Luther King. (He was renamed "Martin" about age six.) He was one of three children; his mother, Alberta, was a former schoolteacher and his father, Martin Luther King, Sr., was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. His grandfather was pastor of the Church from 1914 to 1931, followed by his father. From 1960 until his death, Martin Luther was co-pastor with his father.

Education and Family:

King attended segregated schools while growing up. He graduated from high school at age 15 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948 from Morehouse College. He then attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA, and was the outstanding student of his graduating class. King completed his PhD in theology from Boston University in 1955. He met and married his wife, Correta Scott, in Boston; they had four children.

Ministry and Early Advocacy:

King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL in 1954. In Montgomery, he helped mobilize the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city's bus system -- an outgrowth of the arrest of Rosa Parks. King's house was bombed, and he and other boycott leaders were convicted of conspiracy. But in December 1956, the Supreme Court declared Alabama's segregation laws -- and bus company practices -- unconstitutional.

Civil Rights Leader:

King was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1957, he and other black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom -- 28 August 1963 -- saw more than 250,000 protesters; here King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

Controversy:

College students chaffed at King's moderate and nonviolent techniques. Other black leaders were more militant, specifically Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. His last speech, given during a sanitation worker strike in Memphis, acknowledged turbulent times but was titled "I've Been To The Mountaintop." He was assassinated the following day, 4 April 1968, by James Earl Ray. On 5 June 1968, Robert Kennedy would also be murdered.

MLK Holiday:

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday in 1968. In 1973, Illinois became the first state to adopt MLK Day as a state holiday. It took 15 years for Congress to pass a bill marking the holiday. President Reagan signed it in 1983, and it became effective in 1986. Utah was the last state to recognize MLK Day by name, and South Carolina was the last state to make MLK Day a paid holiday for all state employees -- both happened in 2000.
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