Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.: January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was an African American minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he then led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
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On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty, capitalism, and the Vietnam War. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI’s COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and, in 1964, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death, was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing king, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal. Martin Luther King Jr Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.
King was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second of three children to the Reverend Michael King Sr. and Alberta King (Williams). King’s mother named him Michael, which was entered onto the birth certificate by the attending physician. King’s older sister is Christine King Farris and his younger brother was A.D. king. King’s maternal grandfather Adam Daniel Williams, who was a minister in rural Georgia, moved to Atlanta in 1893, and became pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the following year. Williams, who was a minister in rural Georgia, moved to Atlanta in 1893, and became pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the following year. Williams was of African-Irish descent. Williams married Jennie Celeste Parks, who gave birth to Kings mother, Alberta. King’s father was born to sharecroppers, James Albert and Delia King of Stock bridge, Georgia. In his adolescent years, Kings Sr. left his parents’ farm and walked to Atlanta where he attained a high school education. King Sr. then enrolled in More house College and studied to enter the ministry. King Sr. and Alberta began dating in 1920, and married on November 25, 1926. Until Jennie’s death in 1941, they lived together on the second floor of her parent’s two story Victorian house, where King was born.
Shortly after marrying Alberta, King Sr. Became assistant pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Adam Daniel Williams died of a stroke in the spring of 1931. That fall, King’s father took over the role of pastor at the church, where he would in time raise the attendance from six hundred to several thousand. In 1934, the church sent King Sr. on a multinational trip to Rome, Tunisia, Egypt, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, then Berlin for the meeting of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). The trip ended with visits to sites in Berlin associated with the Protestant reformation leader, Martin Luther. While there, Michael King Sr. witnessed the rise of Nazism. In reaction, the BWA conference issued a resolution which stated, “This Congress deplores and condemns as a violation of the law of God the Heavenly Father, all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world. He returned home in August 1934, and in that same year began referring to himself as Martin Luther King Sr., and his son as Martin Luther King Jr. King’s birth certificate was altered to read “Martin Luther King Jr.” on July 23, 1957, when he was 28 years old.