Last but not least, and I did save the best for last, fact 20 goes to the courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin was born in Atlanta, Georgia as Michael Luther King Jr, later on he changed his name to Martin. He graduated high school at the young age of 15 and started attending Morehouse College. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1948, then went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he was valedictorian of his class in 1951. After his education there, he went to Boston University to obtain his Masters degree, then his doctorate’s degree, which he completed in 1955 at age 25. While at Boston, he met his future wife Coretta Scott. As he was finishing up his doctorate, he followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and became a pastor at a church called Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Also during that time, he became a member of the executive committee of the NAACP.
In 1955, the local NAACP wanted to challenge the Montgomery bus policy and they had one case but due to the circumstances, they did not want to subject the 15 year old girl who was also pregnant and had refused to give up her seat. Then another opportunity came about when Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat to a white man. Since Martin was the leader of the nonviolent demonstration, this was his first case to try out. He and the president of the local NAACP organized a city wide bus boycott. This meant that people would either carpool with others to get to their destination or even walk. After 382 of boycotting and the local transportation companies losing money, the Supreme Court ruled that “racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.”
Shortly after the ruling, Martin was elected to become president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This group helped conduct nonviolent protests in order to promote civil rights reform. The group also tried to press the issue on voting rights by getting African Americans registered to vote. As the leader, Martin traveled all over the United States and spoke over 2500 times to crowds where there was social injustice and discrimination. Martin had protested all over and was arrested a few times because of not leaving businesses.
One of his biggest protests was in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963; that caught attention nationwide because pictures were taken , and it was brutal; blacks were assaulted by dogs and water hoses. Martin, along with several other protesters were arrested and that is what prompted his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Later that year Martin organized a massive protest in Washington, D.C combined with other organizations asking for peaceful change. The march was also for equal jobs and freedom and it drew over 200,000 people. This “March on Washington” is where Martin delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech.
Martin was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1963 and the following year, he was the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, another accomplishment that Martin was part of was Congress passing the Civil Rights Acts; without Martin protesting around the country, it was have prolonged. The Civil Right Acts eliminated legal racial segregation in the United States. The act made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or any other minorities in education, transportation, hiring and public accommodations. In 1965, Congress also passed the Voting Rights Act, that eliminated barriers that blacks had to overcome just to vote. That same year, another march in Selma led to violence when protesters marched from Selma and attempted to march to Montgomery but they were stopped at the Edmond Pettus bridge by police officials and were attacked. The attacked was televised and the world saw it. Martin was not there but for the future marches, he planned to be in attendance.
On April 4, 1968 Martin’s life was taken when he was outside his hotel room on a balcony, when James Earl Ray shot his with a stray bullet and killed him. His murder angered a lot of people and even sparked a few riots. His killer was sentenced to 99 years in prison and he died in 1998 while there.
Martin’s courageous acts and leadership skills have helped shaped America today. Even though, us African Americans still deal with racism and discrimination, it isn’t nearly as bad as it was when Martin was alive. He will forever be memorized as a leader of nonviolent demonstrations, a pastor, an activist, an educated black man, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and plenty more titles. He also has plaques and even a monument of himself, signifying his importance.
sources: nobleprize.org; thekingcenter.org; biography.com