Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?


Martin Luther King returned to Atlanta in 1960 to serve as co-pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Associated Press)
August 16, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. was the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1930s and ’40s. His parents weren’t rich, but they did have a car and a piano.

Martin and his siblings liked board games. His favorite was Monopoly. Like other kids, he had chores. His sister complained that when it was Martin’s turn to do dishes, he would hide in the bathroom.

Martin grew up in a segregated time. (That means different races of people were kept separate.) When he was 14, he traveled 90 miles with his teacher to a speech contest. On the way home, the bus driver made them stand so that white riders could sit. “It was the angriest I have ever been,” he later wrote.

Martin wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. He wanted to help people. He was already a powerful speaker. His college teachers showed him he could change people’s lives by becoming a preacher. So he did. In 1954, at age 25, he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama.

King believed nonviolent protest was the way to react to evil and wrongdoing. The next year, when a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, King led a citywide protest. Black people refused to ride city buses until all riders were treated the same. It took many months, but that finally happened.


The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. at age 24, circa 1953, the year he married Coretta Scott. (Michael Evans/Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

Civil rights protests spread to other cities and states. King helped start a group called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he became known across the country. His supporters held nonviolent “sit-ins” at segregated stores and other places.

King was arrested more than 20 times for his activism. His house was bombed. But he kept preaching nonviolence. In 1964 he received a big honor called the Nobel Peace Prize. Just 35, he was then the youngest person to win the award.

Four years later, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, for a workers’ rally when he was shot and killed.

In 2011, 48 years after the March on Washington, a memorial to King was dedicated not far from the Lincoln Memorial, where he uttered the famous words “I have a dream . . . .”

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