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REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev King, Jr. & Son

The name Martin Luther King or MLK for those more familiar with his ministry, is a name that not only inspires great pride in people of African descent, but also acts as a lasting testament as to just how much change a single soul can inspire. The Reverend Martin Luther King, hardly a man of many means, banked on his exemplary oratorical skills to resuscitate the civil rights movement in America making it a vibrant movement impossible to ignore. In fact, up until today, his memorable I have a Dream speech continues to reverberate across the world, making him the symbolic black leader, and his name synonimous with the plight of African peoples worldwide. The Reverend lived a very distinguished life, being named Time magazine's man of the year in 1963, winning the Nobel Prize in 1964 and most recently, being honoured with a national holiday in the US. Much of the acclaim the Reverend has and continues to receive can be attributed to his non-violent approach to reforms that he borrowed not only from his strong Christian faith, but also the life and times of the legendary Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Reverend King was born in the US city of Atlanta, Georgia on Jan 15th 1929. He was born Michael Luther King Jr, but later changed his name to Martin. King was born into a religious and civil rights family with both his father and grandfather having been pastors and major players in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP). His grandfather Rev. A.D. Williams was Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1914 to 1931 and founded the NAACP Atlanta Chapter. His father Martin Luther King Sr took over as Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1931 and also played an active role in the civil rights movement. King Jr would later join his father, King Sr, as Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the 1960's.

Martin Luther King Jr attended segregated public schools in Atlanta graduating in 1944 at the tender age of 15. He then proceeded to Morehouse College, a predominantly black institution in Atlanta to pursue a B.A. Degree. It was at Morehouse that with the influence of college President Benjamin Mays, King adopted Christian Social activism as had been practiced by both his father and grandfather. Before joining Morehouse College, King Jr was not a very religious person and was known to be particularly skeptical of religious leaders who took literal interpretations of the Bible. Benjamin Mays and other Christian Social activists at Morehouse convinced King Jr that religion was the best way to improve the lives of black people and that it had a legitimate place in the civil rights movement. It was for this reason that after King Jr graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. Degree in 1948, he proceeded to pursue Theological studies at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester Pennsylvania. He completed his studies at Crozer in 1951, obtaining his B.D. and then proceeded to Boston University where he obtained his PhD in Systematic Theology in 1955. Just before completing his PhD studies at Boston University, and having satisfied his residency requirements there, he was offered and accepted the Pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. It was in Montgomery Alabama that King Jr emerged as the leading light in America's civil rights movement.

Reverend Martin Luther King shot to international prominence in 1955 when he successfully organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest segregation in public buses.The boycott was organized just five days after another prominent Montgomery civil rights activist Rosa Parks had got in trouble for challenging the segregationist bus laws. The boycott lasted 382 days culminating in a December 21st 1956 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional segregation in public buses. Though this was a monumental victory for Reverend King Jr, it certainly didnt come devoid of pain and suffering for him and his family. He was not only the subject of numerous arrests and assaults during this period, but also had his house bombed. None of these intimidations however discouraged the brave Reverend, who only seemed to get stronger with every hurdle.

In 1957 reverend Martin Luther King Jr became President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC), a civil rights organization he and other southern black Ministers helped found. His organization drew most of its principles from christianity and advocated Mahatma Gandhi's style of non-violent resistance. Rev. King Jr went on to publish his first book in 1958 called Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story and then followed this with a trip to India in 1959 to get more acquainted with Gandhian philosophy. Towards the end of 1959, he resigned his Pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and returned to his home town Atlanta. Atlanta was not only the headquarters of his SCLC, but also gave him a chance to co-Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church alongside his father.

Rev. King Jr again shot to into the international limelight in April 1963 when he organized the famous protests in Birmingham Alabama, where the police were well known for their anti-black attitudes. The protests, which led to serious clashes between blacks and the local police made headlines worldwide and attracted the attention of then US President Kennedy. The fallout from those protests played a major part in the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the subsequent Voting Rights Act(1965) in the US. These important pieces of legislation also ushered in a new era in American Civil Rights.

On August 28th 1963 just a few months after the Birmingham protests, Rev King Jr organized a march of approximately 250000 protestors to Washingtomn DC, where addressing the protestors from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered the memorable I have a Dream speech. Not surprisingly, Rev King Jr was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1963and in December 1964 was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

But like with any other burgeoning social movement, the civil rights movement also had its fair share of controversy. Much of the controversy started coming up in the early 1960's when the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), a group of southern black students started challenging the more elderly SCLC. Eventhough both were advocating non-violent resistance, they had sharp differences as to the direction the civil rights movement should take. On top of this, there were the more militant blacks, among them Malcolm X who mostly came from the Northern states and shunned the Southern civil rights activists as being too "soft". Needless to say, these differences played exactly into the hands of the American establishment, who now found it much easier to crush the movement by playing one faction against the other. The FBI, then under J. Edgar Hoover is on record as having employed questionable tactics to target budding black leaders during this period. Rev. King's life, as did all the other major civil rights activists thus became increasingly in danger. When Rev. King criticized the Vietnam war effort in 1967, he fell out with his liberal white supporters and President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration and it became just a matter of time before disaster struck

Disaster finally struck on April 4th 1968 when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated while seeking to assist a Garbage Workers' Strike in Memphis Tennessee. James Earl Ray, a career criminal pleaded guilty to the murder and was convicted in a case clouded by suspicions of conspiracy. This sad incident put to rest the life of one of the most promising black leaders the world has ever witnessed. His message however is still very much alive and no amount of bullets could ever kill it.

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