- 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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In the eyes of the sharp-tongued, blue jean young urban black,
King's manner was irresponsibly passive and deemed non-effective. To address this criticism King began making a link between discrimination and poverty. He expanded his civil rights efforts to the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct of the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-race coalition to address economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.
By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on Martin Luther King Jr. He had grown tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was becoming discouraged at the slow progress civil rights in America and the increasing criticism from other African-American leaders. Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues. In the spring of 1968, a labor strike by Memphis sanitation workers drew King to one last crusade. On April 3, in what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, he told supporters, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was struck by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a malcontent drifter and former convict named James Earl Ray, was eventually apprehended after a two-month, international manhunt. The killing sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison on April 23, 1998.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader of his era. His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C. But his life remains controversial as well. In the 1970s, FBI files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that he was under government surveillance, and suggested his involvement in adulterous relationships and communist influences. Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.
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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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