Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King: Who Was He?

We get a day off school on January 19 this year to take note of Martin Luther King's birthday.


Who was this man?

                                       MLK Memorial     Washington, D.C.

He was named Michael Luther King, Jr., at his birth  on 1-15-1929 in Georgia. His father's name was originally Michael Luther King, but he changed his first name to Martin after German Reformist Martin Luther. When Michael, Jr., was a teenager, he changed his name to Martin like his father.

You may have heard him referred to as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is because he earned a Ph.D, or Doctorate. Here are the degrees he earned:

Bachelor of Arts        Morehouse University
*Note: Martin Luther King, Jr., graduated from high school at the age of 15.

Bachelor of Divinity  Crozer Theological Seminary

Doctor of Philosophy   Boston University

Beginning his career, Dr. King was a Baptist Minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His grandfather and father also served as ministers for that church. Ebenezer is still an active church today.

Dr. King was an activist for equal rights for African Americans. Later in his life, he also rallied against poverty in general and against the war in Vietnam.

In 1957, he spoke to a crowd of 15,000 people in Washington, D.C.

In 1961, he participated in a Freedom Ride, where people, both whites and blacks,  rode Greyhound buses through the south, where the freedom to do so was denied African Americans. It sounds like such a simple thing, but they encountered a good deal of violence as they rode from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. Someone even threw a bomb into one of the buses. Read about it here:

One of his non-violent protests staged in Birmingham, Alabama, made national news, ironically, because of the violent response of the police who tried to stop it.

The police response was to spray people with fire hoses--the force of this water knocked people over and injured them. The other was to sic their vicious dogs on the protesters.

Dr. King was arrested and served time in jail several times in his life: in 1960, 1962, twice in 1963, and 1967, for attempting to achieve equal rights for African Americans in the Deep South. He also worked in Chicago to end poverty.

These black people could be arrested for trying to eat a lunch counter designated for white people only. Yes, you read that right.

Signs like these were common throughout the South. Dr. King fought to obtain the equal rights that all people were entitled to.

What is a sit-in?  This was when a large group of people, in protest of unfair treatment of African-Americans, would arrive at a place of business and simply sit down. They were not a threat to anyone, they did not bear arms, they simply sat down and would not move, to show their solidarity. Police would typically move in and arrest them when they refused to move. In the case of the cafeteria, the people sat at the lunch counter and insisted on being served. Instead of enforcing that right, the police arrested the protesters.

Martin Luther King, Jr.,  was the first President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

He wrote seven books in his lifetime:

"Letter From Birmingham"                 1963
"Strength to Love"                               1963
"I Have a Dream"                                1963
"Why We Can't Wait"                         1964
"Where Do We Go From Here"          1967
"Stride Toward Freedom"                   1967
"Trumpet of Conscience"                    1968

And another six were printed using his papers and his story, after his death (posthumously)

 "Daddy King"                                      1980
"The Words of Martin Luther King"    1984
"Testament of Hope"                            1986
"Martin Luther King Companion"       1992
"Papers of Martin Luther King"           1992
"Knock at Midnight"                            1992

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his activism. Here is a history of Nobel Peace Prize winners:
                                                      Dr King accepts his Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.

After his death, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
                                          Presidential Medal of Freedom

                                          Congressional Gold Medal

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday has been a national holiday since 1986, while it had been a state holiday in many states since 1971.

Possibly his best-known speech is the "I Have A Dream" speech. Here is the text:

What did Dr. King do to change the landscape of civil rights? Do we still have problems with it today? How could that be changed? Are there any leaders today who are similar to Dr. King?

Would you have the courage to do the things he did?

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