Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Ga., on Jan. 15, 1929, the eldest son of Martin Luther King, Sr. (1899-1984), a Baptist minister, and Alberta Williams King (1904-74). He entered Morehouse College at the age of 15 and was ordained a Baptist minister at the age of 17. He graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary as class president in 1951; three years later, he received a Ph.D. from Boston University.

King's studies at Crozer and Boston led him to explore the works of the Indian nationalist Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose ideas became the core of his own philosophy of nonviolent protest. On a visit to India in 1959 King was able to work out more clearly his understanding of Satyagraha, Gandhi's principle of nonviolent persuasion, which he had determined to use as his main instrument of social protest.

King's prestige ensured that nonviolence, although not universally popular, remained the official mode of resistance. In 1963 he led a massive civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Ala., and organized drives for black voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. During these nonviolent campaigns he was arrested several times. He led the historic March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

King's preoccupation with the Vietnam War and his determination to lead a Poor People's March on Washington combined with shifting public priorities to challenge his leadership. He was near exhaustion from stress, and his speeches increasingly alluded to his possible death. He was undeterred, however, for as he put it on April 3, 1968, he had "been to the mountain top and seen the Promised Land." The following day he was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn. Some 100,000 people attended his funeral in Atlanta.

In 1983 the third Monday in January was designated a federal legal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.



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