Today we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The King family is pictured at home in Atlanta: from left, Martin Luther King III, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Dexter, 4, and Yolanda, 9. June 20, 1965.
Born at the family home in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., graduated from Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), and Boston University (Ph.D., 1955). The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King was ordained in 1947 and became (1954) minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala. He led the black boycott (1955—56) of segregated city bus lines and in 1956 gained a major victory and prestige as a civil-rights leader when Montgomery buses began to operate on a desegregated basis.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is welcomed with a kiss by his wife Coretta after leaving court in Montgomery, Ala., March 22, 1956. King was found guilty of conspiracy to boycott city buses in a campaign to desegregate the bus system, but a judge suspended his $500 fine pending appeal.
King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which gave him a base to pursue further civil-rights activities, first in the South and later nationwide. His philosophy of nonviolent resistance led to his arrest on numerous occasions in the 1950s and 60s.
Police use dogs to quell civil unrest in Birmingham, Ala., in May 1963. Birmingham's police commissioner "Bull" Connor also allowed fire hoses to be turned on young civil rights demonstrators. These measures set off a backlash of sentiment that rejuvenated the flagging civil rights movement.
As far as black Americans were concerned, the nation's response to Brown was agonizingly slow, and neither state legislatures nor the Congress seemed willing to help their cause along. Finally, President John F. Kennedy recognized that only a strong civil rights bill would put teeth into the drive to secure equal protection of the laws for African Americans. On June 11, 1963, he proposed such a bill to Congress, asking for legislation that would provide "the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves." Southern representatives in Congress managed to block the bill in committee, and civil rights leaders sought some way to build political momentum behind the measure.
A. Philip Randolph, a labor leader and longtime civil rights activist, called for a massive march on Washington to dramatize the issue. He welcomed the participation of white groups as well as black in order to demonstrate the multiracial backing for civil rights. The various elements of the civil rights movement, many of which had been wary of one another, agreed to participate. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Urban League all managed to bury their differences and work together. The leaders even agreed to tone down the rhetoric of some of the more militant activists for the sake of unity, hoping the march would lead to passage of the civil rights bill.
On August 28, 1963, under a nearly cloudless sky, more than 250,000 people, a fifth of them white, gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to rally for "jobs and freedom." The roster of speakers included speakers from nearly every segment of society -- labor leaders like Walter Reuther, clergy, film stars such as Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando. Each of the speakers was allotted fifteen minutes, but the day belonged to the young and charismatic leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had originally prepared a short and somewhat formal recitation of the sufferings of African Americans attempting to realize their freedom in a society chained by discrimination. He was about to sit down when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out, "Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" Encouraged by shouts from the audience, King drew upon some of his past talks, and the result became the landmark statement of civil rights in America -- a dream of all people, of all races and colors and backgrounds, sharing in an America marked by freedom and democracy.
text of the 'I Have a Dream' speech
listen to it here
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. looks at the glass door of his rented beach cottage in St. Augustine, Fla., that was shot into on June 5, 1964. No one was in the house at the time of the shooting. King was in St. Augustine to meet with other integration leaders.
In 1964 Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At age 35, he was the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Text of his acceptance speech
Thousands march to the Courthouse in Montgomery to protest rough treatment given voting rights demonstrators. The Alabama Capitol is in the background. March 18,1965.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holds his head after being struck by a rock as he led 600 demonstrators on a civil-rights march through crowds of angry whites in the Gage Park section of Chicago's southwest side. Aug. 6, 1966.
His plans for a Poor People's March to Washington were interrupted (1968) for a trip to Memphis, Tenn., in support of striking sanitation workers.
Hosea Williams (left), Jesse Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph David Abernathy on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel Memphis hotel, a day before King's assassination. April 3,1968.
'I've Been to the Mountaintop' audio clip
Text of 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech
On Apr. 4, 1968, he was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel
News video from that day Please watch.
I don't have a lot of heroes, but Dr. King is one. I always play James Taylor's Shed a Little Light in his honor on the morning of his birthday remembrance. I was very fortunate to see the PBS series about the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize several years ago because copyright law has made the series unavailable for distribution (Amazon offers the videos for $800 - $1500!). However, there are efforts to re-clear the rights which would be wonderful as this must be the most definitive documentary on the subject.