- NAME: Martin Luther King Jr.
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Minister
- BIRTH DATE: January 15, 1929
- DEATH DATE: April 04, 1968
- Did You Know?: Martin Luther King Jr. changed his name from Michael to Martin after his father adopted the name Martin in honor of the Protestant leader Martin Luther.
- EDUCATION: Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, Boston University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Atlanta, Georgia
- PLACE OF DEATH: Memphis, Tennessee
- Full Name: Martin Luther King Jr.
- Originally: Michael King Jr.
- AKA: MLK Jr.
- AKA: Martin Luther King
- AKA: MLK
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Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist, who led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968.
On the night of January 27, 1956, when he was just 27 years old, Martin Luther King Jr. received a threatening phone call that would cause his life to change forever.
From 1954 until 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the only church where MLK pastored and the site where he began his Civil Rights activism.
On September 30, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed by segregationists in retaliation for the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
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King met with religious and civil rights leaders and lectured all over the country on race-related issues.
In 1959, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, and inspired by Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, Martin Luther King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India. The trip affected him in a deeply profound way, increasing his commitment to America's civil rights struggle. African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin,
who had studied Gandhi's teachings, became one of King's associates and counseled him to dedicate himself to the principles of non-violence. Rustin served as King's mentor and advisor throughout his early activism and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. But Rustin was also a controversial figure at the time, being a homosexual with alleged ties to the Communist Party, USA. Though his counsel was invaluable to King, many of his other supporters urged him to distance himself from Rustin.
In February 1960, a group of African-American students began what became known as the "sit-in" movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. The students would sit at racially segregated lunch counters in the city's stores. When asked to leave or sit in the colored section, they just remained seated, subjecting themselves to verbal and sometimes physical abuse. The movement quickly gained traction in several other cities. In April 1960, the SCLC held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina with local sit-in leaders. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged students to continue to use nonviolent methods during their protests. Out of this meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed and for a time, worked closely with the SCLC. By August of 1960, the sit-ins had been successful in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities.
By 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was gaining national notoriety. He returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but also continued his civil rights efforts. On October 19, 1960, King and 75 students entered a local department store and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and 36 others were arrested. Realizing the incident would hurt the city's reputation, Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce and charges were eventually dropped. But soon after, King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign, when candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King's harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and political pressure was quickly set in motion. King was soon released.
In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Entire families attended. City police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. Martin Luther King was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, but the event drew nationwide attention.
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
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Check out BIO’s original video series, American Freedom Stories, about the historic events of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, and the leaders and everyday heroes who fought to make racial equality a reality. Watch videos.
Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BRCI), a museum, research center and teaching facility in Birmingham, Alabama. BRCI is dedicated to documenting the American Civil Rights Movement, and promoting civil and human rights worldwide through education.
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