Martin Luther King's Birthday
Martin Luther King Jr.
Author: Betsy Aoki, Seattle Times Web Specialist.
Created November 1995 - January 1996
FEW HAVE HAD AS MUCH IMPACT upon
the American consciousness as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A Baptist minister and passionate fighter for civil rights through non-violent action,
he was the closest this country has come to producing a leader with the moral stature
of Mohandas Gandhi. When King was assassinated in 1968, citizens in many major cities reacted violently ---
while others held vigils and peaceful gatherings. And Americans,
black and white, wondered what would happen to his dream.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Martin Luther King Jr.: Never Again Where He Was
The jetliner left Atlanta and raced through the night toward Los Angeles. From his window seat, the black man gazed down at the shadowed outlines of the Appalachians, then leaned back against a white pillow. In the dimmed cabin light, his dark, impassive face seemed enlivened only by his big, shiny, compelling eyes. Suddenly, the plane spuddered in a pocket of severe turbulence. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned a wisp of a smile to his companion and said: "I guess that's Birmingham down below."
It was, and the reminder of Vulcan's city set King to talking quietly of
the events of 1963. "In 1963," he said, there arose a great Negro
disappointment and disillusionment and discontent. It was the year of
Birmingham, when the civil rights issue was impressed on the nation in a way
that nothing else before had been able to do. It was the most decisive year in the Negro's fight for equality. Never before had there been such a coalition of conscience on this issue."
Symbol of Revolution. In 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation
Proclamation, that coalition of conscience insatiably changed the course of
U.S. life. Nineteen million Negro citizens forced the nation to take stock of itself in the Congress as in the corporation, in factory and field and pulpit and playground, in kitchen and classroom. The U.S. Negro, shedding the thousand fears that have encumbered his generations, made 1963 the year of his outcry for quality, of massive demonstrations, of wins and speeches and street fighting, of soul searching in the suburbs and psalm singing in the jail cells.
And there was Birmingham with its bombs and snarling dogs; its shots in
the night and death in the streets and in the churches; its lashing fire hoses at washed human beings along slippery avenues without washing away the dignity; its men and women pinned to the ground by officers of the law...this was the Negro revolution. Birmingham was its main battleground, and Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the Negroes in Birmingham, became millions, black and white, in South and North, the symbol of that revolution--and the Man of the Year.
King is in many ways the unlikely leader of an unlikely organization--the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a loose alliance of 100 or so
church-oriented groups. King has neither the quiet brilliance nor the sharp
administrative capabilities of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Roy Wilkins. He has none of the sophistication of the National Urban League's Whitney Young Jr., lacks Young's experience in dealing with high echelons of the U.S. business community. He has neither the inventiveness of CORE's James Farmer nor the raw militancy of SNICK's John Lewis nor the bristling wit of Author James Baldwin. He did not make his mark in the entertainment field, where talented Negroes have long been prominent, or in the sciences and professions where Negroes have, almost unnoticed, been coming into their own. He earns no more money than some plumbers ($10,000 a year), and possesses little in the way of material things.
He presents an unimposing figure: he is 5 ft. 7 in., weighs a
heavy-chested 173 lbs., dresses with funereal conservatism (five of six suits are black, as are most of his neckties). He has very little sense of humor. He never heard of Y.A. Tittle or George Shearing, but he can discourse by the hour about Thoreau, Hegel, Kant and Gandhi.
King preaches endlessly about nonviolence, but his protest movements often
lead to violence. He himself has been stabbed in the chest, and physically
attacked three more times; his home has been bombed three times, and he has
been pitched into jail 14 times. His mail brings him a daily dosage of opinion in which he is by turn vilified and glorified. One letter says: "This isn't a threat but a promise--your head will be blown off as sure as Christ made green apples." But another ecstatically calls him a "Moses, sent to lead his people to the Promised Land of first- class citizenship."
Cadence. Some cynics call King "De Lawd." He does have an upper-air way
about him, and, for a man who has earned fame with speeches, his metaphors can be downright embarrassing. For Negroes, he says, "the word `wait' has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide," giving "birth to an ill-formed infant of
frustration." Only by "following the cause of tender-heartedness" can man
"matriculate into the university of eternal life." Segregation is "the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality," and it "cannot be cured by the Vaseline of gradualism."
Yet when he mounts the platform or pulpit, the actual words seem
unimportant. And King, by some quality of that limpid voice or by some secret of cadence, exercises control as can few others over his audiences, black or white. He has proved this ability on countless occasions, ranging from the Negroes' huge summer March on Washington to a little meeting one recent Friday night in Gadsden, Ala. There, the exchange went like this:
King: I hear they are beating you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are cursing you.
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are going into your homes and doing nasty things and
Response: Yes, yes.
King: Some of you have knives, and I ask you to put them up. Some of you
may have arms, and I ask you to put them up. Get the weapon of nonviolence, the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of truth, and just keep marching.
Few can explain the extraordinary King mystique. Yet he has an
indescribable capacity for empathy that is the touchstone of leadership. By
deed and by preachment, he has stirred in his people a Christian forbearance
that nourishes hope and smothers injustice. Says Atlanta's Negro Minister Ralph D. Abernathy, whom King calls "my dearest friend and cellmate": "The people make Dr. King great. He articulates the longings, the hopes, the aspirations of his people in a most earnest and profound manner. He is a humble man, down to earth, honest. He has proved his commitment to Judaeo-Christian ideals. He seeks to save the nation and its soul, not just the Negro."
Angry Memories. Whatever his greatness, it was thrust upon him. He was
born on Jan. 15 nearly 35 years ago, at a time when the myth of the subhuman
Negro flourished, and when as cultivated an observer as H.L. Mencken could
write that "the educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets
insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a Negro. His brain is not fitted for the higher forms of mental effort; his ideals, no matter how
laboriously he is trained and sheltered, remain those of a clown."
Mencken had never met the King family of Atlanta. King's maternal
grandfather, the Rev. A.D. Williams, was one of Georgia's first N.A.A.C.P.
leaders, helped organize a boycott against an Atlanta newspaper that had
disparaged Negro voters. His preacher father was in the forefront of civil
rights battles aimed at securing equal salaries for Negro teachers and the
abolition of Jim Crow elevators in the Atlanta courthouse.
As a boy, Martin Luther King Jr. suffered those cumulative experiences in
discrimination that demoralize and outrage human dignity. He still recalls the curtains that were used on the dining cars of trains to separate white from black. "I was very young when I had my first experience in sitting behind the curtain," he says. "I felt just as if a curtain had come down across my whole life. The insult of it I will never forget." On another occasion, he and his schoolteacher were riding a bus from Macon to Atlanta when the driver ordered them to give up their seats to white passengers. "When we didn't move right away, the driver started cursing us out and calling us black sons of bitches. I decided not to move at all, but my teacher pointed out that we must obey the law. So we got up and stood in the aisle the whole 90 miles to Atlanta. It was a night I'll never forget. I don't think I have ever been so deeply angry in my life."
Ideals & Technique. Raised in the warmth of a tightly knit family,
King developed from his earliest years a raw-nerved sensitivity that bordered on self-destruction. Twice, before he was 13, he tried to commit suicide. Once his brother, "A.D.," accidentally knocked his grandmother unconscious when he slid down a banister. Martin thought she was dead, and in despair ran to a second-floor window and jumped out--only to land unhurt. He did the same thing, with the same result, on the day his grandmother died.
A bright student, he skipped through high school and at 15 entered
Atlanta's Negro Morehouse College. His father wanted him to study for the
ministry. King himself thought he wanted medicine or the law. "I had doubts
that religion was intellectually respectable. I revolted against the
emotionalism of Negro religion, the shouting and the stamping. I didn't
understand it and it embarrassed me." At Morehouse, King searched for "some
intellectual basis for a social philosophy." He read and reread Thoreau's
essay, "Civil Disobedience," concluded that the ministry was the only framework in which he could properly position his growing ideas on social protest.
At Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., King built the
underpinnings of his philosophy. Hegel and Kant impressed him, but a lecture on Gandhi transported him, sent him foraging insatiably into Gandhi's books. "From my background," he says, "I gained my regulating Christian ideals. From Gandhi I learned my operational technique."
Montgomery. The first big test of King's philosophy--or of his operating
technique--came in 1955, after he had married a talented young soprano named
Coretta Scott and accepted the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
On Dec. 1 of that year, a seamstress named Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery
bus and took a seat. As the bus continued along its route, picking up more
passengers, the Negroes aboard rose on the driver's orders to give their seats to white people. When the driver told Mrs. Parks to get up, she refused. "I don't really know why I wouldn't move," she said later. "There was no plot or plan at all. I was just tired from shopping. My feet hurt." She was arrested and fined $10.
For some reason, that small incident triggered the frustrations of
Montgomery's Negroes, who for years had bent subserviently beneath the
prejudices of the white community. Within hours, the Negroes were embarked upon a bus boycott that was more than 99% effective, almost ruined Montgomery's bus line. The boycott committee soon became the Montgomery Improvement Association, with Martin Luther King Jr. as president. His leadership was more inspirational than administrative; he is, as an observer says, "more at home with a conception than he is with the details of its application." King's home was bombed, and when his enraged people seemed ready to take to the streets in a riot of protest, he controlled them with is calm preaching of nonviolence. King became world famous and in less than a year the Supreme Court upheld an earlier order forbidding Jim Crow seating in Alabama buses.
Albany. Montgomery was one of the first great battles won by the Negro in
the South, and for a while after it was won everything seemed anticlimactic to King. When the sit-ins and freedom-ride movements gained momentum, King's
S.C.L.C. helped organize and support them. But King somehow did not seem very efficient, and his apparent luck of imagination was to bring him to his lowest ebb in the Negro movement.
In December 1961, King joined a mass protest demonstration in Albany, Ga.,
was arrested, and dramatically declared that he would stay in jail until Albany consented to desegregate its public facilities. But just two days after his arrest, King came out on bail. The Albany movement collapsed, and King was bitterly criticized for helping to kill it. Today he admits mistakes in Albany.
"Looking back over it," he says, "I'm sorry I was bailed out. I didn't
understand at the time what was happening. We though that the victory had been won. When we got out, we discovered it was all a hoax. We had lost a real opportunity to redo Albany, and we lost an initiative that we never regained."
But King also learned a lesson in Albany. "We attacked the political power
structure instead of the economic power structure," he says. "You don't win
against a political power structure where you don't have the votes. But you can win against an economic power structure when you have the economic power to make the difference between a merchant's profit and loss."
Birmingham. It was while he was in his post-Albany eclipse that King began
planning for his most massive assault on the barricades of segregation. The
target: Birmingham, citadel of blind, die-hard segregation. King's lieutenant, Wyatt Tee Walker, has explained the theory that governs King's planning: "We've got to have a crisis to bargain with. To take a moderate approach, hoping to get white help, doesn't work. They nail you to the cross, and it saps the enthusiasm of the followers. You've got to have a crisis."
The Negroes made their crisis, but it was no spur-of-the- moment matter.
King himself went to Birmingham to conduct workshops in nonviolent techniques. He recruited 200 people who were willing to go to jail for the cause, carefully planned his strategy in ten meetings with local Negro leaders. Then, declaring that Birmingham is the "most thoroughly segregated big city in the U.S.," he announced early in 1963 that he would lead demonstrations there until "Pharaoh lets God's People go."
Awaiting King in Birmingham was Public Safety Commissioner Theophilus
Eugene ("Bull") Connor, a man who was to become a symbol of police brutality
yet who, in fact, merely reflected the seething hatreds in a city where acts of violence were as common as chitlins and ham hocks. As it happened, Bull Connor was running for mayor against a relative moderate, Albert Boutwell. To avoid giving campaign fuel to connor, King waited until after the April 2 election. Between Jan. 16 and March 29, he launched himself into a whirlwind speaking tour, made 28 speeches in 16 cities across the nation.
Moving into Birmingham in the first week of April, King and his group
began putting their plans to work. Bull Connor, who had lost the election but refused to relinquish power, sent his spies into the Negro community to seek information. Fearing that their phones were tapped, King and his friends worked up a code. he became "J.F.K.," Ralph Abernathy "Dean Rusk," Birmingham Preacher Fred Shuttlesworth "Bull," and Negro Businessman John Drew "Pope John." Demonstrators were called "baptismal candidates," and the whole operation was labeled "Project C"--for "Confrontation."
The protest began. Day after day, Negro men, women and children in their
Sunday best paraded cheerfully downtown to be hauled off to jail for
demonstrating. The sight and sound of so many people filling his jail so
triumphantly made Bull Connor nearly apoplectic. he arrested them at lunch
counters and in the streets, wherever they gathered. Still they cam, rank on
rank. At length, on Tuesday, May 7, 2,500 Negroes poured out of church, surged through the police lines and swarmed downtown. Connor furiously ordered the fire hoses turned on. Armed with clubs, cops beat their way into the crowds. An armored car menacingly bulldozed the milling throngs. Fire hoses swept them down the streets. In all, the Birmingham demonstrations resulted in the jailing of more than 3,300 Negroes, including King himself.
The Response. The Negroes had created their crisis--and Connor had made it
a success. "The civil rights movement," said President Kennedy in a meeting
later with King, "owes Bull Connor as much as it owes Abraham Lincoln." that
was a best an oversimplification; nevertheless, because of Connor, the riots
seared the front pages of the world press, outraged millions of people.
Everywhere, King's presence, in the pulpit or at rallies, was demanded. But
while he preached nonviolence, violence spread. "Freedom Walker" William Moore was shot and killed in Alabama. Mississippi's N.A.A.C.P. Leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home. There was violence in Jackson, Miss., in Cambridge, Md., in Danville, Va. In Birmingham, later in the year, a church bombing killed four Negro Sunday-school children, while two other youngsters were shot and killed the same day.
Those events awakened long-slumbering Negro resentments, from which a
fresh Negro urgency drew strength. For the first time, a unanimity of purpose slammed into the Negro consciousness with the force of a fire hose. Class lines began to shatter. Middle-class Negroes, who were aspiring for acceptance by the white community, suddenly found a point of identity with Negroes at the bottom of the economic heap. Many wealthy Negroes, once reluctant to join the fight, pitched in.
Now sit-in campaigns and demonstrations erupted like machine-gun fire in
every major city in the North, as well as in hundreds of new places in the
South. Negroes demanded better job opportunities, an end to the de facto school segregation that ghetto life had forced upon them. The N.A.A.C.P.'s Roy Wilkins, a calm, cool civil rights leader, lost some of his calmness and
coolness. Said he: "My objectivity went out the window when I saw the picture of those cops sitting on that woman and holding her down by the throat." Wilkins promptly joined a street demonstration, got himself arrested.
"Free at Last." Many whites also began to participate, particularly the
white clergy, which cast off its lethargy as ministers, priests and rabbis
tucked the Scriptures under their arms and marched to jails with Negroes whom they had never seen before. The Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, executive head of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., declared: "Some time or other, we are all going to have to stand and be on the receiving end of a fire hose." Blake thereupon joined two dozen other clergymen in a protest march--and was arrested.
In the months following Birmingham, Negroes paraded, demonstrated, sat in,
stormed and fought through civil rights sorties in 800 cities and towns in the land. The revolt's basic and startling new assumption--that the black man can read and understand the Constitution, and can demand his equal rights without fear--was not lost on Washington. President Kennedy, who had been in no great hurry to produce a civil rights bill, now moved swiftly. The Justice Department drew up a tight and tough bill, aimed particularly at voting rights, employment, and the end of segregation in public facilities.
To cap the summer's great storm of protest, the Negro leaders sponsored
the now famous March on Washington. It was a remarkable spectacle, one of
disorganized order, with a stateliness that no amount of planning could have
produced. Some 200,000 strong, whites and blacks of all ages walked from the
Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. There, the Negro leaders
spoke--Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Young and SNICK's Lewis.
But it was King who most dramatically articulated the Negro's grievances,
and it was he whom those present, as well as millions who watched on
television, would remember longest. "When we let freedom ring," he cried, "when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we ill be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Even the Unions". The march made irreversible all that had gone before in the year of the Negro revolution. In that year, the Negroes made more gains than they had achieved in any year since the end of the Civil War. A speedup in school integration in the South brought to 1,141 the number of desegregated school districts. In the North, city after city re-examined de facto school segregation and set up plans to redress the balance. In 300 cities in the South, public facilities--from swimming pools to restaurants--were integrated, and in scores of cities across the nation, leaders established biracial committees as a start toward resolving local inequities.
New job opportunities opened nearly everywhere, as the nation's businesses
sent out calls for qualified Negro help--and, finding a shortage, began
training programs for unskilled Negroes. Banks, supermarkets, hotels and
department stores upgraded Negro employees. In Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York, pressure on the A.F.L.-C.I.O construction unions--the most notorious Jim Crow organizations in the North--produced progress toward training of Negro apprentices. San Francisco's tile setters, memphis' rubber workers and St. Louis' bricklayers opened their union rolls to willing beginners. Television and Madison Avenue blossomed with Negro actors and ad models in "non- Negro" roles. In Denver, Sears, Roebuck & Co., which hitherto had had one Negro employee (dusting shelves), hired 19 more Negroes for a variety of jobs. To varying degrees it was the same way in Houston, at Grant's five and ten, and in San Francisco, where Tidewater Oil took on a Negro for executive training. Even in the South, the job situation improved. Negroes began moving into professional positions in North Carolina's state government. Three Nashville banks agreed to hire Negroes in clerical positions, and some white-collar jobs opened in South Carolina.
Still, for every tortuous inch gained, there are miles of progress left to
be covered. There remain 1,888 Southern school districts where segregation is the rule--and scores of other districts where desegregation sits uneasily in token form. Though Montgomery buses are technically integrated, the city's other public facilities still are not. Team sports are still carefully segregated in a large number of Southern institutions; the NBC television network recently canceled coverage of the annual Blue-Gray football game because Negroes are not eligible to participate. Only 22 states have enforceable fair-employment laws on the books. And not counting Mississippi, where there is a total absence of integrated public facilities, those in other Southern states are so spotty and inconsistent (a downtown lunch counter, yes; the city swimming pool, no) that it is hard for a Negro nowadays to know where he may go and where he may not.
Backlash. In general, housing is still the Negro's toughest barrier. Here
and there--for example, in Denver's Park Hill residential section, where Negro home buying at first created flurries of panic--colored families have been able to move into white sections with little trouble. But the major metropolitan areas of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles continue to fill up at the heart with Negroes while whites from a suburban collar on the outside. California used to pride itself on its progressive attitude, and boasts a fair- housing law on the books to prove it. Now it has been struck with a campaign by the 40,000-member California Real Estate Association to nullify the law.
The white counterattack in California reflects one natural consequence of
the Negro's militant position: a backlash reaction, derived from the notion
that "the Negro is pushing too far, too fast," and that he is also threatening the unskilled white man's job security. James P. Mitchell, Eisenhower's onetime Labor Secretary, now San Francisco's human-relations coordinator and a friend of the Negro feels that "militancy could quite easily antagonize important people who are now prepared or preparing to do something. What Negroes have to remember is something they tend to forget: that they are a minority, and that they can only achieve what they want with the support of the majority." Says Los Angeles Housewife Maureen Hartman: "I don't see why the Negroes are weeping and wailing. This is not Birmingham. They can go anywhere. They can vote, hold good jobs, eat in the best restaurants. Just what do they expect from us?"
Re-examination. What the Negroes expect, and what they are getting to a
degree that would have been astonishing at the start of 1963, is a change of
attitude. "A lot of people," says Chicago's Negro Baptist Minister Arthur
Brazier, "are re-examining their motives. Even if this means that a lot of
hidden prejudices have been uncovered in Northerners, good will be gained from the fact that Americans have been forced to act on days other than Brotherhood Days and Weeks."
Often the changes in attitudes are tiny in scope but broad in meaning. No
longer do the starters at Miami's municipal golf courses ask a trio of white
men if they will accept a Negro fourth; they merely assign the Negro, and
foursome heads onto the course. A New York adoption agency is asking white
families to take Negro children. Louise Morgan, a former Chicago advertising
executive, says: "I had conned myself into thinking I was a liberal. The rude awakening occurred less than a year ago, when a Negro writer and his family sought an apartment in my building and were turned down. I had met him. He was bright and a gentleman. Yet I didn't lift a finger to help him. That's all changed now." In California, Real Estate Dealer Richard S. Hallmark quit his job in protest over the commonly accepted methods of restricting Negro house buying. "I had never sold to a Negro family in my life, but it grated on my conscience," he says. "I'm tired of people telling me they don't give a goddam about the law and that they're just not going to sell or rent to `niggers.' I'm not a martyr or a crusader, but they made me ashamed. The colored people are here to stay, so we might as well get used to it."
In addition to marching in demonstrations, clergymen are welcoming Negroes
to their all-white congregations in many places, and are mounting mail
campaigns to Congress in support of the civil rights bill. Several Roman
Catholic archdioceses now require a specific number of sermons on race
relations. The National Council of Churches has budgeted $300,000 to support
civil rights activities.
A Different Image. The most striking aspect of the revolt, however, is the
change in Negroes themselves. The Invisible Man has now become plainly
visible--in bars, restaurants, boards of education, city commissions, civic
committees, theaters and mixed social activities, as well as in jobs. Says
Mississippi's N.A.A.C.P. President Aaron Henry: "There has been a re-evaluation of our slave philosophy that permitted us to be satisfied with the leftovers at the back door rather than demand a full serving at the family dinner table." With this has come a new pride in race. Explains Dr. John R. Larkins, a Negro consultant in North Carolina's Department of Public Welfare: "Negroes have a feeling of self-respect that I've never seen in all my life. They are more sophisticated now. They have begun to think, to form positive opinions of themselves. There's none of that defeatism. the American Negro has a different image of himself." Moreover, says U.C.L.A.'s Negro Psychiatrist J. Alfred Cannon, "We've got to look within ourselves for some of the answers. We must be able to identify with ourselves as Negroes. Most Negro crimes of violence are directed against other Negroes; it's a way of expressing the Negro's self-hatred. Nonviolent demonstrations are a healthy way of channeling these feelings. But they won't be effective unless the Negro accepts his own identity."
Where most Negroes once deliberately ignored their African beginnings and
looked down on the blacks of that continent, many now identify strongly with
Africa--though not to the point where they would repudiate their American
loyalties--and take pride in the emergence of the new nations there. Some Negro women are affecting African-style hairdos; Negroes are decorating their homes with paintings and sculpture that reflect interest in African culture. There has been a decline in sales of "whitening" creams, hair straighteners and pomades, which for years found a big market among Negroes obsessed with ridding themselves of their racial identity.
The Lull. There has been an inevitable lull in visible civil rights
activity since the March on Washington, and this has disheartened some Negroes. Says Richard L. Banks, secretary of the Governor's advisory committee on civil rights in Massachusetts: "When the Negroes are not in the streets any more, I'm awfully afraid that some of the people who responded will forget it." But the lull is deceptive, and it is probably best described by James Baldwin. Says he, "This lull is like a football huddle. People are reassessing. They are planning. We will flush the villain out."
In fact, most Negro leaders are waiting for the outcome of the civil
rights still in Congress, and are counseling patience until at least the end of this month. They are also carefully gauging the position of Lyndon Johnson. So far, the President's resolute support of the civil rights bill has been encouraging. Says the Rev. L. Sylvester Odom of Denver's African Methodist Episcopal Church: "Personally I wouldn't be surprised if President Johnson gets more out of Congress than President Kennedy could have. He may not get as deeply into the hearts of the people, but he may do pretty well with the Congress, and after all that is what counts." Degrees Virginia-born Social Psychologist Thomas Pettigrew: "Johnson will be tougher with the South. He knows them. Kennedy treated the South as if it were Boston. As a Southerner, I know damn well you don't treat the South that way. Johnson won't play patty-cake with them."
Martin Luther King Jr. has already met with President Johnson, and he is
similarly optimistic. "I've had a good deal of contact with him in the past
several years," says King. "He means business. I think we can expect even more from him than we have had up to now. I have implicit confidence in the man, and unless he betrays his past actions, we will proceed on the basis that we have in the White House a man who is deeply committed to help us."
Thus the support of the President for strong civil rights bill provides a
basis for high Negro hopes. Though Negro leaders acknowledge that laws do not change people's hearts, they want the satisfaction of knowing that a federal law support them in, for example, their demands for equal voting rights and the right to share public accommodations with white men. If the civil rights bill circumvents these specifics, or if it should fail to pass altogether, the leaders are determined to push their revolution all the more strongly in 1964.
The Year Ahead. Some believe that demonstrations may have passed their
peak of effectiveness. Says Boston N.A.A.C.P. Leader Tom Atkins: "One of the
problems with these damn demonstrations is that you have to keep making them
more exciting." But among those who do not agree is martin Luther King Jr., and his preparations for 1964 are well under way. "More and more," he says, "I have come to feel that our next attack will have to be more than just getting a lunch counter integrated or a department store to take down discriminatory signs. I feel we will have to assault the whole system of segregation in a community."
King's most intensive efforts will be entered on Alabama and Mississippi,
because there the problem is greatest. The Negro suffers more and more. How to deliver an all-out attack? This is what we have to think about. I'm thinking now in terms of thousands and thousands of people. They would have to be students, mainly because, for financial reasons, working adults find it difficult to remain in jail." Very soon King may press an offensive in
Danville, Va., which, he says, is "the most difficult immediate situation we
face. The town has a notorious record of police brutality. I don't agree that there has to be violence in the future, but this will depend on events. For instance, if a filibuster in Congress stands in the way of meaningful
legislation, the Negro could be driven to despair and violence."
King's mission is to turn that potential for violence into successful,
direct, nonviolent action, and he works at the job 20 hours a day. He has moved back with his wife and four children to Atlanta, where he shares the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with is father. His house, near the church, is an old, two-story, four-bedroom place. Paintings with African themes and a photograph of Gandhi hand on the walls. There is a threadbare scatter rug in the living room, two chairs protected with plastic, and a couch in need of a new slip cover. One of the keys is missing on the old grand piano. King likes to play the piano, although, as his wife says, "he starts off the `Moonlight Sonata' as if you're really going to hear something, but he fades out."
King rises at 6:30 a.m. and goes to his study for 45 minutes of reading.
Then he has fruit juice and coffee for breakfast, and at 9 o'clock drives to
his office in one of his two cars (a 1960 Ford and a 1963 Rambler). There he
goes to work in a 16-ft.- square room filled with perhaps 200 volumes on Negro and religious subjects; he checks his mail (about 70 letters a day), writes his speeches and sermons, confers with aides and, by telephone, with civil rights leaders around the country. He usually eats lunch at his desk, then continues working often until 2 or 3 o'clock the next morning.
Redemption. More and more, King spends his time in airplanes, journeying
to the far corners of the U.S. to speak and preach to huge audiences. He
traveled about 275,000 miles in 1963 and made more than 350 speeches. Wherever he goes, the threat of death hovers in the form of crackpots. "I just don't worry about things like this," he says. "If I did, I just couldn't get anything done. One time I did have a gun in Montgomery. I don't know why I got it in the first place. I sat down with Coretta one night and we talked about it. I pointed out that as a leader of a nonviolent movement, I had no right to have a gun, so I got rid of it. The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important. If you are cut down in a movement that is designed to save the soul of a nation, then no other death could be more redemptive."
It is with this inner strength, tenaciously rooted in Christian concepts,
that King has made himself the unchallenged voice of the Negro people--and the disquieting conscience of the whites. That voice in turn has infused the
Negroes themselves with the fiber that gives their revolution its true stature. In Los Angeles recently, King finished a talk by saying: "I say good night to you by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher, who said, `We ain't what we ought to be and we ain't what we're going to be. But thank God, we ain't what we was.'"
After 1963, with the help of Martin Luther King Jr., the Negro will never
again be where he was.
And an excellent page for Children and Teenagers:
Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on
August 28, 1963
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we
stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree
came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who
had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a
joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that
the Negro is still not free. 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. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling
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 guarranteed the
inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this
promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the
Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient
funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great
vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this
check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom
and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot
to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to
engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug
of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate
valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is
the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial
injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of
the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This
sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass
until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope
that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will
have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro
is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will
continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day
of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand
on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the
process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of
wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by
drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of
dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to
degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to
the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The
marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must
not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white
brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to
realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their
freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march
ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the
devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never
be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel,
cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of
the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic
mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be
satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in
New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are
not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down
like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of
great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from
narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for
freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered
by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of
creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned
suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to
Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our
northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be
changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the
difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It
is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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 that one day on the red hills of Georgia the
sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able
to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a
desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression,
will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a
nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by
the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose
governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition
and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little
black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little
white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill
and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain,
and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the
Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to
the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain
of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to
transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful
symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work
together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail
together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be
free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able
to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of
liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the
pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom
ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of
Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, whem we let it ring from every
village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be
able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and
white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able
to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free
at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at noon Tuesday, January 15, 1929, at the family home, 501
Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Charles Johnson was the attending physician.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first son and second child born to the Reverend Martin Luther
King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Other children born to the Kings were Christine King
Farris and the late Reverend Alfred Daniel Williams King. Martin Luther King's maternal
grandparents were the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, and
Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents, James Albert and Delia King, were
sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.
He married the former Coretta Scott, younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurray
Scott of Marion, Alabama on June 18, 1953. The marriage ceremony took place on the lawn of
the Scott's home in Marion. The Reverend King, Sr., performed the service, with Mrs. Edythe
Bagley, the sister of Mrs. King, maid of honor, and the Reverend A.D. King, the brother of
Martin Luther King, Jr., best man.
Four children were born to Dr. and Mrs. King:
Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955 Montgomery, Alabama)
Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957 Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961 Atlanta, Georgia)
Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963 Atlanta, Georgia)
Martin Luther King, Jr. began his education at the Yonge Street Elementary School in
Atlanta, Georgia. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary
School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington
High School. Because of his high score on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of
high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T.
Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at
the age of fifteen.
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall, he
enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he
also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected president of the senior class and
delivered the valedictory address; he won the Pearl Plafker Award for the most outstanding
student; and he received the J. Lewis Crozer fellowship for graduate study at a university of his
choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951.
In September of 1951, Martin Luther King began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at
Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, "A Comparison
of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wieman," was completed in 1955, and the
Ph.D. degree was awarded on June 5, 1955.
Dr. King was awarded honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities in the
United States and several foreign countries. They include the following:
- Doctor of Human Letters, Morehouse College
- Doctor of Laws, Howard University
- Doctor of Divinity, Chicago Theological Seminary
- Doctor of Laws, Morgan State College
- Doctor of Humanities, Central State College
- Doctor of Divinity, Boston College
- Doctor of Laws, Lincoln University
- Doctor of Laws, University of Bridgeport
- Doctor of Civil Laws, Bard College
- Doctor of Letters, Keuka College
- Doctor of Divinity, Wesleyan College
- Doctor of Laws, Jewish Theological Seminary
- Doctor of Laws, Yale University
- Doctor of Divinity, Springfield College
- Doctor of Laws, Hofstra University
- Doctor of Human Letters, Oberlin College
- Doctor of Social Science, Amsterdam Free University
- Doctor of Divinity, St. Peter's College
- Doctor of Civil Law, University of New Castle, Upon Tyne
- Doctor of Laws, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa
Martin Luther King entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in February 1948 at the
age of nineteen at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he
became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he
accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. He was the pastor of
Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to
direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death
in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church and President of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the
Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which was responsible for the successful
Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). He was arrested thirty times for his
participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of Southern Christian
Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also vice president of the national Sunday
School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a
member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of
several institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies
including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. King received several hundred awards for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.
Among them were:
- Selected one of the most outstanding personalities of the year by Time, 1957.
- Listed in Who's Who in America, 1957.
- the Spingarn Medal from NAACP, 1957.
- The Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers, 1957.
- The Second Annual Achievment -- The Guardian Association of the Police Department of
New York, 1958.
- Link Magazine of New Dehli, India, listed Dr. King as one of the sixteen world
leaders who had contributred most to the advancement of freedom during 1959.
- Named Man of the Year by Time, 1963.
- Named American of the Decade by Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers
International Union, 1963.
- The John Dewey Award, from the United Federation of Teachers, 1964.
- The John F. Kennedy Award, from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, 1964.
- The Nobel Peace
Prize in 1964. At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest man, the second American, and the
third black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamacian Government.
- The Rosa L. Parks Award, presented by the Southern Christian Leadrship Conference.
- The preceding awards and others, along with numerous citations, are in the
the Martin Luther King,
Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Sources in the LSU Libraries.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a vital personality of the modern era. His lectures and
remarks stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation; the movements and
marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life; his courageous and
selfless devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities; his charismatic leadership
inspired men and women, young and old, in the nation and abroad.
Dr. King's concept of somebodiness gave black and poor people a new sense of worth
and dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, and his strategies for rational and
non-destructive social change, galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, went to Congress as a result of the Selma to
Montgomery march. His wisdom, his words, his actions, his commitment, and his dreams for a
new cast of life, are intertwined with the American experience.
Dr. King's speech at the march on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel
Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final speech in Memphis are
among his most famous utterances (I've
Been to the Mountaintop). The Letter from
Birmingham Jail ranks among the most important American documents.
Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis,
Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England
on June 8, 1968 and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to stand trial for the assassination of Dr.
King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to
ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Dr. King had been in Memphis to help lead
sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable conditions. His funeral services
were held April 9, 1968, in Atlanta at Ebenezer Church and on the campus of Morehouse College,
with the President of the United States proclaiming a day of mourning and flags being flown at
half-staff. The area where Dr. King was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza and surrounded
by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social
Change, Inc. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, a 23 acre area was listed as a National
Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977, and was made a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980
by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Sources Used in Preparing This Display:
Major Events in the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Handout included in curriculum package, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Biographical Sketch, prepared by the National Library Involvement Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. (Washington D.C.: Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission), 1994.
Copyright © 1995
Comments/Suggestions: Mitchell C. Brown
Louisiana State University Libraries
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803-3100
Tele: (504) 388-2530 * Fax: (504) 388-2760