Martin Luther King

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King, Martin Luther, Jr.,

1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955). The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King became (1954) minister of the Dexter Ave. 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.

King organized the Southern Christian Leadership ConferenceSouthern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC), civil-rights organization founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King, Jr., and headed by him until his assassination in 1968. Composed largely of African-American clergy from the South and an outgrowth of the Montgomery, Ala.
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 (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. His campaigns had mixed success, but the protest he led in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 brought him worldwide attention. He spearheaded the Aug., 1963, March on Washington, which brought together more than 200,000 people. The protests he led helped to assure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year King and the SCLC led a campaign for African-American voter registration centered on Selma, Ala. A nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery was attacked by police who beat and teargassed the protestors, but it ultimately succeeded on the third try when the National Guard and federal troops were mobilized. The events in Selma provoked national outrage, and months later aroused public opinion did much to precipitate passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

King's leadership in the civil-rights movement was challenged in the mid-1960s as others grew more militant. His interests, however, widened from civil rights to include criticism of the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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 and a deeper concern over poverty. 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. On Apr. 4, 1968, he was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel (since 1991 a civil-rights museum).

James Earl Ray, a career criminal, pleaded guilty to the murder and was convicted, but he soon recanted, claiming he was duped into his plea. Ray's conviction was subsequently upheld, but he eventually received support from members of King's family, who believed King to have been the victim of a conspiracy. Ray died in prison in 1998. In a jury trial in Memphis in 1999 the King family won a wrongful-death judgment against Loyd Jowers, who claimed (1993) that he had arranged the killing for a Mafia figure. Many experts, however, were unconvinced by the verdict, and in 2000, after an 18-month investigation, the Justice Dept. discredited Jowers and concluded that there was no evidence of an assassination plot.

King wrote Stride toward Freedom (1958), Why We Can't Wait (1964), and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967). His birthday is a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in January. King's wife, Coretta Scott KingKing, Coretta Scott,
1927–2006, American civil-rights leader, b. Heiberger, Ala.; the wife (1953–68) of Martin Luther King, Jr. After her husband's assassination, she carried on his civil-rights work.
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, carried on various aspects of his work until her death in 2006. She also wrote My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969, rev. ed. 1993).


See biographies by K. L. Smith and I. G. Zepp, Jr. (1974), S. Oates (1982), M. Frady (2001), and D. L. Lewis (3d ed. 2012); D. J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross (1986); M. E. Dyson, I May Not Get There with You (2000); S. Burns, To the Mountaintop (2004); F. Sunnemark, Ring Out Freedom! (2004); T. Branch, America in the King Years (3 vol., 1988–2006).

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (b. Michael L. King)

(1929–68) Baptist minister, civil rights leader; born in Atlanta, Ga. Grandson and son of Baptist ministers (in 1935 his father changed both their names to Martin to honor the German Protestant), young Martin graduated from Morehouse College (Ga.) (1948) and Crozer Theological Seminary (1951) and then took a Ph.D. from Boston University (1955), where he also met his future (1957) wife, Coretta Scott, with whom he had four children. Ordained a minister in 1947 at his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1953. Relatively untested when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus in December 1955, he led the boycott of Montgomery's segregated busses for over a year (eventually resulting in the Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination in public transportation). In 1957 he was chosen president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and he began to broaden his active role in the civil rights struggle while advocating his nonviolent approach to achieving results; he would base his approach on the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi as well on Christian teachings. He moved to Atlanta in 1959 to become copastor of his father's church and in the ensuing years gave much of his energies to organizing protest demonstrations and marches in such cities as Birmingham, Ala. (1963); St. Augustine, Fla. (1964); and Selma, Ala. (1965). During these years he was arrested and jailed by Southern officials on several occasions, he was stoned and physically attacked, and his house was bombed; he was also placed under secret surveillance by the FBI due to the strong prejudices of its director, J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted to discredit King as both a leftist and a womanizer. King's finest hour came on August 28, 1963, when he led the great march in Washington, D.C., that culminated with his famous "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. At the height of his influence, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and he used his new-found powers to attack discrimination in the U.S. North. Meanwhile, as the Vietnam War began to consume the country, he also broadened his criticisms of American society because he saw the impact of the war on the country's resources and energies. In the spring of 1968 he went to Memphis, Tenn., to show support for the striking city workers and he was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of his motel there. (James Earl Ray would plead guilty to the murder, although he would later insist that he was innocent.) With his oratorical style that drew directly on the force of the Bible, with his serene confidence derived from his non-violent philosophy, he had advocated a program of moderation and inclusion, and although later generations would question some of his message, few could deny that he had been the guiding light for 15 of the most crucial years in America's civil rights struggle.
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