There are many people in human history who have enacted an international impact in how society will change for the better. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one man who changed history forever. He sacrificed his time and his life for social and racial justice. He believed in equality for all human life and he wanted economic justice too. We honor his contributions that justly and rightfully helped humanity. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were preachers. His father was Martin Luther King Sr., who was stern and a person who wanted his children to express a steadfastness against injustice. His mother was Alberta Williams King. She believed in equality and instilled great values in her children too. His father opposed injustice and he was a well-known preacher in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dr. Martin Luther King’s middle class childhood was filled with experiences of accomplishments, joy, tragedy, and racism. He was forced to stand up in the bus (because of Jim Crow laws) after he was involved in the childhood academic competition (he said that the incident was the time when he felt the most angry in his life). He saw his father experiencing racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played sports and he was gifted with great intelligence. He graduated from Booker T. Washington high school at the age of 15 and he went to Morehouse College in September 20, 1944 in Atlanta. 2 years later, he published a letter to the Atlanta Constitution that stated that black people “are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens.” Dr. King decided to be a minister and delivered his first prepared sermon in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta during the Summer of 1947. He was 18 years old. He was ordained and appointed assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in February 25, 1948. He was naturally gifted to be a great orator. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College in June 8, 1948. Later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. studied theology in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and in Boston. In these universities, he believed in Personalism and he questioned capitalism in his letters. He loved to synthesize information.
Around this time, he met Coretta Scott King. Coretta Scott King was from Alabama. She was her own woman and a great singer. Coretta Scott King was a political activist who believed in peace, nuclear disarmament, and civil rights for decades. She wanted to be a singer and she at first wasn’t initially attracted to Dr. King until Dr. King shown his intellect about politics, civil rights, economics, etc. They both were very intelligent and they loved each other. Both of them married at the Scott home near Marion, Alabama in June 18, 1953. The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the evil murder of Emmett Till in 1955 galvanized even more people in America to stand up and fight back against oppression in the Deep South and throughout the Earth. In 1954, he was a preacher in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The Montgomery Bus Boycott came about and King was chosen as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association or the MIA. He was chosen since he was new to Montgomery and he wasn't tied up in the city's politics so strongly. Many men and women worked hard for the boycott to be successful. Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, Mary Louise Smith, Jo Ann Robinson, Ralph Abernathy, E.D. Nixon, and many other heroes stood up to make the boycott great too. Georgia Gilmore, midwife and cook in Montgomery, Alabama, was prominently involved in the 1955 citywide bus boycotts. She started her own home-based restaurant and established The Club From Nowhere, selling fresh baked goods and the proceeds went to the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association). The club name allowed them to earn money for the movement without raising the suspicion of white officials and members of the Klan. Dr. King's home was bombed and he received threatening phone calls (one such call in January 27, 1956 caused him to bow before his knees to pray to God. According to him, a voice told him to keep on going and that he or God will never forsake him never). The boycott ended by the Supreme Court decision ending segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama by December of 1956.
Dr. King was transformed into unconditionally supporting Gandhian nonviolence (as he once owned a gun in his home and he had armed bodyguards with him). He was influenced by black people, white liberal theologians, pacifists, Gandhi, and tons of other social activists who inspired him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pacifist, a Baptist clergyman, and he criticized capitalism. He spoke positively about democratic socialism. By the late 1950’s, Dr. King traveled the country to speak in favor of civil rights. He traveled into Ghana (with his wife Coretta Scott King) to celebrate its independence from colonialism. He traveled with Coretta Scott King into India to study India and the nonviolent philosophy. By the late 1950's, the SCLC or the Southern Christian Leadership Council was established in order to create voter registration, to fight poverty, to build education, to promote workers' rights, and to ultimately end Jim Crow. In February 18, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was featured on the cover of TIME's magazine. Dr. King's book "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story" was published by September 17, 1957.
Dr. King was the President of the SCLC for the rest of his life. The SCLC organization moved from Montgomery to Atlanta in 1960. In February 1, 1960, the modern sit in movement existed in Greensboro, North Carolina (though sit-ins existed long before 1960) by young black college students (their names are David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil). The sit-in happened in the Woolworths restaurant. In February 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family moved into Atlanta where he served as assistant pastor to his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met privately with then Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. JFK won the election with the majority of the black vote, because he spoke in favor of civil rights. Yet, for most his Presidency, JFK would act slow or in a gradual fashion on civil rights matters. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would at times publicly criticize JFK for his slow, moderate response to civil rights issues too. He or the President JFK would advocate a Civil Rights Bill in June of 1963 (after he was pressured by social activists to do something about what was going on in Birmingham, etc.). The beginning of the 1960’s saw more sit-ins in stores and the Freedom Riders developed (The Freedom Riders were people who wanted to integrate bus terminals). The Freedom Riders wanted to enforce existing integration laws on interstate bus travel. Attorney General Robert Kennedy during the early 1960's had a contentious, angry relationship with the Freedom Riders and the civil rights movement since RFK wanted to use the law to solve problems without massive demonstrations. RFK was wrong since an unjust law is no law at all and any person has the right to express demonstrations and use militant action in fighting oppression. The May 24, 1963 meeting between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and black civil rights activists (like James Baldwin, Harry Bealafone, Lorraine Hansberry, Jerome Smith) was antagonistic as RFK wanted a more moderate approach to try to solve racial discrimination in America. The civil rights activists wanted RFK to see that token moderation is no solution and that revolutionary action is necessary to establish justice for black people. By the late 1960's, Robert Kennedy changed and became more progressive on issues. Dr. King wanted John F. Kennedy to issue a second Emancipation Proclamation to eliminate racial segregation in October 16, 1961. By 1962, Dr. King worked in Albany, Georgia to fight for justice. The Albany Movement in general lasted from October 1961 to August 1962. SNCC (with people like Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones), NAACP, SCLC, Negro Voters League, Federation of Women's Clubs, Ministerial Alliance, and other groups were involved in the Albany campaign. Dr. King wanted to end segregation in public facilities, theaters, schools, etc. in Albany. People also wanted voting registration and voting rights in general. SNCC wanted Dr. King to go and be more aggressive in Albany. This was one of the first times when SNCC questioned Dr. King's militancy. The Albany Chief of Police Laurie Pritchett (a segregationist) read Dr. King's literature. He used the slick tactic of not being as provocative as in other places in order to neutralize the Albany movement. Many members of the FBI in Albany and in other places of the South stood by and did nothing when black people being assaulted by white racists. Dr. King rightfully spoke out against the FBI evil, dubious actions. When Dr. King was in jail in Albany, he was released quickly and the movement didn't grow momentum until later on. People in this campaign used protests, sit-ins, protests, and boycotts. Albany would eventually end Jim Crow, but the Albany campaign ended in not a massive success.
Ultimately, Dr. King learned lessons from his experience in Albany in order for him to do much better in the Birmingham campaign. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King worked in Birmingham, Alabama (which was heavily segregated, racist, and black people faced massive oppression) to fight segregation, discrimination, racism, poverty, and economic deprivation in general. Pastor Frederick Lee "Fred" Shuttlesworth was one of the many leaders of the Birmingham movement. He suffered assaults and other injustices, but he continued forth as a man to stand up for his human rights. He promoted demonstrations and was jailed in April of 1963. Dr. King wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” while he was in a Birmingham jail to refute moderate Jewish and Christian clergymen (who wanted Dr. King to be patient and be a token moderate in waiting for change). Dr. King’s letter was eloquent and refuted their words. In May 7, the racist Bull Connor (the Police Commissioner) used police dogs, clubs, water hoses, and cattle prods to brutalize and harm black men, women, and children protesters in downtown Birmingham. This caused outrage worldwide. On June 12, 1963, Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers (who advocated social justice and voting rights) was assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. In August 28, 1963, the March on Washington came about. It included people from across America to promote civil rights and economic justice. It fulfilled the Dream of A. Philip Randolph who wanted such a march for decades (he wanted a march in World War II. FDR issued an executive order that banned discrimination in some aspects of jobs. This was the Executive Order 8802 from June 25, 1941, which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry. It was the first federal action, though not a law, to promote equal opportunity and prohibit employment discrimination in the United States). The 1963 March on Washington was organized by A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and so many other people. Civil rights groups, labor rights groups, and religious groups were involved in the march. Almost 250,000 people were in the March of Washington. The march explicitly called for: 'JOBS AND FREEDOM.' Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In the speech, he gave the famous words of:
"...But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!..And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
After the march, he and other civil rights leaders visited President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Dr. King published his second book entitled, "The Strength to Love" on September 1, 1963. In the midst of inspiration, comes more tragedy. On September 15, 1963, four innocent little girls were killed by white racists as a product of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Their names are Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Dianne Wesley. These little girls just wanted to worship God peacefully.
Dr. King delivered the eulogy. Angela Davis and Condoleezza Rice knew the four victims. In October 10, 1963, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the FBI to wiretap King’s home phone, which was wrong. JFK would be assassinated in November 23, 1963 in the midst of him moving in a more progressive direction as compared to 1961. Time Magazine called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Man of the Year” in January 3, 1964. Dr. King continued onward. He supported the War on Poverty. He fights for change in St. Augustine, Florida. He also met Malcolm X for the first and only time in the Washington, D.C. Congress building in March 26, 1964. Both of them were monitoring the Congressional debates on the Civil Rights Bill. In June 4, 1964, Dr. Martin Luter King Jr. published his third book called, "Why We Can't Wait." He supported the CORE including the SCLC individuals organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign (which wanted black people in Mississippi to vote by registration and they wanted to end racial injustice. This happened during the Summer of 1964). The FBI via Hoover slandered the civil rights movement as Communist inspired, which was a slander. The movement for black liberation existed long before Karl Marx was ever born.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway in December 10, 1964 (for the cause of civil rights). He sent every penny of the $54,000 award to the civil rights movement. Back in the States, Dr. King worked in Selma to fight for voting rights by early 1965. Selma, Alabama is the peak of the mainstream civil rights movement of the 1960’s in terms of collective unity among organizations. Malcolm X, James Forman, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, and others supported the Selma voting rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were great people of the black freedom movement. They disagreed on nonviolence. Malcolm X believed in self-defense and he refused to be a pacifist in the face of white racist terrorism. Malcolm X was a famous leader in the Nation of Islam (in that organization, he believed in a separate black state, he denounced the civil rights movement, and he spoke courageously against police brutality) and he left in 1964. He left Elijah Muhammad, because Malcolm X believed that the NOI in his mind was not doing enough in terms of political activism to cause real social change for black people (and because of of the accusations of Elijah Muhammad committing adultery, etc.). Malcolm X felt betrayed. After his Hajj, Malcolm X was changed forever. He believed in judging a person on a person’s conscious behavior not on skin color. He formed Muslim Mosque Inc. to accept Muslims in the course of spiritual matters. He also formed the OAAU (or the organization of Afro-American Unity) in 1964 to unite black people regardless of religion to fight for the human rights of black people in America including the world (as Malcolm X believed in pan-African unity). Malcolm X also supported the 1964 boycott of New York City public schools, because the schools had discriminatory policies against Black and Puerto Rican students. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X did agree on many issues though. They agreed that Black is Beautiful, they opposed the Vietnam War, they opposed the deception shown by the mainstream media (in how some in the media falsely portray the victim as the criminal and how some of them falsely presented the oppressor in positive terms), and they expressed reservations about capitalism (by their own words). They both wanted total equality, freedom, and justice for all black people. Malcolm X would be more progressive and he supported the rights of women. In 1965, Malcolm X supported the Selma campaign. He was assassinated in February 21, 1965. We know how the NYPD, BOSSI, and the CIA monitored Malcolm X. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed great sadness and sympathy over his assassination and he gave condolences to Sister Betty Shabbaz (or the wife of Malcolm X). RIP Brother Malcolm X.
Bloody Sunday happened in Selma when the police brutalized innocent protesters at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma. They or the marchers tried to march to Montgomery. Dr. King didn’t go into the next march across the bridge, but he did after the judge ended the injunction and allowed demonstrations to conduct their march to the Capitol of Alabama. Dr. King gave a great speech in Montgomery, Alabama after the third successful march. The Voting Rights Act was signed in August 6, 1965. After Selma (which started a new phrase of the civil rights movement), Dr. King worked on civil rights endeavors and he discussed on what to do next. On August 11-12, 1965, the Watts Rebellion erupted in California when thirty-five people died. The National Guard had been called in to come into the situation. The rebellion in Los Angeles represented the need for economic and civil rights concerns to be taken more seriously in the West Coast, the Midwest, and in the North. People in Los Angeles back then were tired of oppression. It represented a new era in American history. Martin Luther King worked more in the North and the Midwest by 1966-1967 in Cleveland, New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago (to battle against de facto discrimination, to fight against poverty, to desire fair wages, to desire better health care for all people and to fight against slums). De jure segregation is Jim Crow or segregation that was promoted via unjust laws. De facto discrimination was segregation made by practice not necessarily by unjust laws. Dr. King wanted great housing too for human beings. He made great victories in Cleveland in 1967 and the victory wasn’t big in Chicago though in 1966 (though something is better than nothing). SCLC's Operation Breadbasket (which wanted to promote job and economic opportunities for black people and punish racist corporations via boycott if they refused to be fair in their dealings with black Americans) was Dr. King’s famous activist organization to fight for economic justice for human beings, especially black people. He criticized the Vietnam War as early as 1965 and by January 1966, he went into Chicago. He wanted to end housing discrimination in Chicago. He also wants to abolish poverty and slums in Chicago. He led protests, but a reluctant local city government (headed by Chicago mayor Richard Daley) forced Dr. King to make an agreement. Federal Housing legislation would come late in 1968. In February 23, 1966, he met with the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. In the March against Fear march from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi, Dr. King heard Kwame Ture of SNCC speak about Black Power. Floyd McKissick of CORE also supported Black Power. They marched in Mississippi after James Meredith was shot and wounded near Memphis. Dr. King took a nuisance view of Black Power. He believed in black people organizing economic and political power and he believed in the value of blackness, but he rejects separatism. On July 18-23, 1966, The National Guard are called in when Summer rebellions break out in Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio, and Omaha, Nebraska. In the same year, the Black Panther Party existed to promote self defense and oppose police terrorism in Oakland including all over America. Dr. King also focused more on poverty and developed a class analysis in seeing that poverty affects people of every color and a radical redistribution of political and economic power must come about to end poverty in America.
By early 1967, he opposed the Vietnam War in public in a higher level. He was later heavily criticized by the moderate civil rights leaders, by the President Lyndon Baines Johnson, by far right reactionaries (who have a morbid fear of Communism instead of a love of racial justice), and by the mainstream media for his anti-war stance. He continued onward regardless. He gave his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech to a group of Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam at Riverside Church in New York City in April 4, 1967, which as one year to the day before his assassination. He wanted the U.S. to end the Vietnam war and send U.S. troops home. In that speech in Riverside Church, he condemned the anti-religious liberty actions of Diem (who brutalized Buddhists. He also condemned the corrupt General Ky). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. condemned the United States government as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He wanted an end to militarism, materialism, economic exploitation, and racism. He wanted colonialism to end and he desired capitalistic exploitation to cease. In 1967, more rebellions happened in Detroit, Newark, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Cambridge (in Maryland). Dr. Martin Luther King condemned violence, but he said that a riot is the language of the unheard. We have to know the causes of the rebellions (which included poverty, police occupation, desperation, hurt, discrimination, etc.) in order to establish solutions. The FBI continued to illegally monitor Dr. King, other civil rights leaders, and the rest of the progressive movement (which included the Black Panthers, SNCC, the NAACP, other anti-war activists, student activist groups, the SDS, labor rights groups, women rights groups, Native American groups, Hispanic rights groups, etc.). He published his “Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community” book on June 1967. The book was ahead of its time and it was very enlightening. He formed the Poor Peoples’ Campaign in Washington, D.C. (which was inspired from Marian Wright Edelman and so many other human beings) to try to force the government to end poverty with living wages, economic rights given to people, and an end to racial injustice. The Poor People’s Campaign was progressive, multiracial, and it was very inspirational. He went in Mississippi and in other places of America to gain funds and resources to develop it. The problem is that many people opposed it, even some of his closest advisers. On Christmas Eve 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his sermon on peace (as recorded by the Massey Lectures). He talked about the interrelatedness of humankind and how we have to either have nonviolence or nonexistence.
In March of 1968, he is involved in supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. The Memphis sanitation workers movement inspired him and he spoke out in favor of labor rights. The March 28, 1968 was filled with violence, property being damaged, and police brutality. Dr. King was rushed from the scene. Yet, he promised to make another peaceful march in Memphis. On April 3, 1968, he spoke at an evening rally at Mason Temple in Memphis. He gave his final speech entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In that speech, he talked about history, boycotts, the dignity of the sanitation workers, and carrying on the struggle. Also, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated building up black institutions in that great speech too. The speech galvanized the crowd. He was emotional and excited at the future. In April 4, 1968, he was murdered by one bullet while he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis. He was only 39 years old. He was buried in Atlanta in April 9, 1968. James Earl Ray was arrested in London by authorities and he was convicted. Questions abound about how he received a passport and money to travel from America to Canada, and then to the UK in such a short span of time when he was a poor convict. That is why many people (including the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) believe that a conspiracy involved the assassination of Dr. King. We know that the FBI and the NSA illegally and unjustly monitored Dr. King constantly. A historic 1999 court case found the government complicit in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. President Johnson signed the Civil rights Act of 1968 in April 10, 1968, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin. It also made it a federal crime to "by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin." Years later, we see some progress, but we have a long way to go. We see the rise of the black middle class and the black wealthy (some of the rich have unfortunately mocked the poor and refuse to develop a class analysis on issues), but income inequality has grown since 1968. We still have massive poverty (which is why the Fight for 15 movement is in existence today), struggling schools, the mass incarceration state, sexism, health care issues, environmental problems, imperialism, and policy brutality in the world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was much more than the "I Have a Dream Speech." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a revolutionary, radical person. He criticized capitalism, he condemned white racism, he opposed the death penalty, he wanted total nuclear disarmament worldwide, and he believed in social justice. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, he would call out the corporate mainstream media, Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and other reactionary extremists. Dr. King said that Black is Beautiful in public. He said the following words in a rare speech:
"Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything Black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word white, it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well I want to get the language right tonight. "I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful.”
With the events in Iran with the Americans going home, it shows that peaceful diplomacy can cause positive results in international affairs. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that love, tolerance, and nonviolent actions are not weak actions. We believe in justice for the poor. They are strong concepts and strong actions that should be executed in order to make the world better. He wanted peace and goodwill to exist in the world. No human is perfect and Dr. King admitted his imperfections, but God wants us to learn from others so we can be better people overall. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right to advocate for economic justice. He was right to advance love for humanity. He was right in opposing Jim Crow apartheid. He was right to oppose the unjust Vietnam War. So, we are inspired by Dr. King. We will work in service and social activism, so the Dream can be made real for all.