Martin Luther King the Story Term Paper

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Martin Luther King

The story of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is the story of America's most important civil rights leader. He was responsible for significantly raising the nation's awareness over civil rights issues and for working to have the federal government pass some comprehensive legislation over them. He dedicated his life to the struggle and did not stop until his untimely death on April 4, 1968. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to parents Martin Luther King Sr., who was a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta Williams King.

The time during which King was born was fraught with many injustices committed against African-Americans, particularly in the South. Blacks had to experience racial segregation in almost all public areas, including schools, parks, stores, trains and buses. Many blacks grew up poor and disenchanted with American society. Many were unable to break free of poverty because they experienced racial discrimination while pursuing an education and while trying to take advantage of whatever few job opportunities they had available.

King was an extremely intelligent child while growing up; when he was only 13 he began working at the Atlanta Journal. This made him the company's youngest assistant manager of their delivery station. King attended local primary and secondary schools while growing up, which included Booker T. Washington High School, the first public high school for Blacks in Atlanta. He was an exceptional student, who was able to skip both the 9th and 12th grades. Thus he was only 15 when he entered college; in 1944 he began attending Atlanta's Morehouse College and later graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology.

King had initially not considered pursuing a religious career until he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, who got him interested in the possibility of entering the ministry. So in 1951 King began attending the Crozer Theological Seminary until he received his Bachelor of Divinity award. In 1955 King completed his Ph.D. In Systematic Theology from Boston University. On June 18, 1953 King married Coretta Scott in Marion Alabama at her parent's house. They had four children together whose names were Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice Albertine.

In 1954 King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The year 1955 was when King first became active in the civil rights movement when he participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott was famously started when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. The boycott, which lasted 381 days, led to an increase in racial tensions within the city and even led to King's house being bombed. Despite all this trouble, the boycott eventually resulted in the United States Supreme Court's ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional.

In 1957 King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) along with various other black leaders. The purpose of the organization was to mobilize black churches in the non-violent struggle for civil rights; King was made its president and continued to serve this position until his death. In the meantime, during the year 1960, King became the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church alongside his father.

In 1963 King participated in another mass demonstration, this time in Birmingham, Alabama and this time having to do with the desegregation of department stores and the promotion of nondiscriminatory hiring practices. Many protesters experienced police brutality and King himself was arrested; he wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in order to bring attention to this experience. Later that same year on August 28 King helped to organize and lead the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In conjunction with five other civil rights organizations which included the NAACP, Urban League, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, SNCC, and the Congress of Racial Equity, King's SCLC attempted to bring the plight of African-Americans into the nation's consciousness.

The march succeeded in bringing to light the fact that the country needed some comprehensive civil rights legislation dealing with prohibiting employment discrimination, ending racial segregation in the public school system, and protecting civil rights workers from police brutality, among other things. This march was highly successful in having over a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds participate and it was where King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

This speech was memorable in the fact that it pointed out the various injustices that American blacks continued to experience in the country despite their gaining freedom from slavery after the Civil War. As quoted from the speech King declared that "One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land" ("I Have a Dream," para. 2).

King later declared that the purpose of the march was to "cash a check." As King so aptly stated, "So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"("I Have a Dream" para. 3).

Later on King declares his optimistic attitude towards the way the civil rights struggle will eventually end. He states that "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal ("I Have a Dream" para.13)."

On October 14, 1964 King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he stated that he was receiving this award on behalf of the many participants of the civil rights movement who were endlessly engaged in the struggle. As he himself stated after receiving his prize on December 10, 1964, "I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice"("Nobel Prize "para.1).

Also in his speech King stated that his acceptance of the award would allow the world to recognize the non-violent tactics his movement engaged in. As he himself stated," After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression"("Nobel Prize "para.3).

During his lifetime King led and organized various boycotts and demonstrations against racial injustice. Between 1961-1962 King and the SCLC organized the ultimately unsuccessful protest march in Albany. In 1964 he and his organization participated in the St. Augustine, Florida protest march, and in the voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama in conjunction with another organization, the SNCC.

While in Alabama, King and the SCLC attempted to organize a mass protest stretching from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, 1965. The initial march that was supposed to have taken place there on March 7 resulted in Bloody Sunday, in which police brutality abruptly ended the otherwise non-violent march. Extensive media coverage of this and other major events surrounding the civil rights struggle brought nationwide attention and sympathy to the cause. Attention to such issues ultimately resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Besides focusing on domestic issues, King also tried to bring attention to America's foreign policy issues and to issues dealt with by other countries. On March 5, 1958 King attended the Independence Day celebrations of the country Ghana. Dr. King made many interesting statements about the event while there. One such statement includes, "Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance (Carson)."

Another interesting statement made by Dr. King during the event includes the following, "The minute I knew I was going to Ghana I had a very deep emotional feeling. A new nation was being born. It symbolized the fact that a new order was coming into being and an old order was passing away (Carson)." Dr. King described the jubilation of the event in the following… [END OF PREVIEW]

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