Black History: Martin Luther King Jr.

The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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By: Ilyich-Justin B.H. , student , with edits by the editor. Africentric Alternative School

A Leader Emerges.

There is a saying that freedom comes to a people when a leader emerges amongst them who can put into words their deepest thoughts and feelings. This is what happened in the southern United States in the 1950’s amongst African-Americans when Martin Luther King began to articulate for them their dream!

ML KING’s early life.

Born as Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was the middle child of Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. The King and Williams families were rooted in rural Georgia. Martin Jr.'s grandfather, Williams, was a rural minister for years and then moved to Atlanta in 1893.

Martin Luther King had started his education at five years old. His mother was a teacher and taught the young monk to read even before he went to school. He was so smart that he skipped his first year at Booker Washington high school and went directly into college when he was just 15 years old. He started to get interested in the civil rights movement when Rosa Parks, December 1955, refused to give up her seat in a bus to a white person.


Martin Luther King Jr : from Baptist minister to  national civil rights Leader

From late 1965 through to 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. expanded his civil rights efforts into large American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. He met with increasing criticism and public challenges from young black power leaders. King’s approach to civil rights was non-violent  and pacticed with patience. This approach appealed to white middle-class citizens but alienated many black militants who considered his methods too weak, too late and ineffective. To address this criticism, King began making a link between discrimination and poverty, and he began to speak out against the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct in the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-race coalition to address the economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people. By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on King. He had grown tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was becoming discouraged at the slow progress of civil rights in America and the increasing criticism from other African-American leaders. Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues. On April 3, he gave his final and what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in which he told supporters at the Mason Temple in Memphis, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a former convict named James Earl Ray, was eventually apprehended after a two-month, manhunt. The assassination sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison on April 23, 1998.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life had an impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader of his era. Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday honouring the legacy of the slain civil rights leader. The holiday was first celebrated in 1986, and in all 50 states in 2000.



"I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. ... I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. A man who won't die for something, doesn’t deserve to live.”