Martin Luther King ,Jr. Biography

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Martin Luther King ,Jr. Biography

"Certainly I don't want to die. But if anyone has to die, let it be me."
Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and civil rights leader was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, and assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. There was always something special about Martin Luther King, Jr., even as a child, according to his father. He loved books and liked to keep them around him, even before he could read. King early recognized his talent as an orator and sought ways for its best use. He deliberated for years about becoming a minister like his father but felt that the ministry was not sufficiently intellectual to allow him to speak on contemporary problems. He then considered medicine, law, and other professions, but he remained unable to make up his mind. In 1940 King entered Morehouse College, having skipped a year in high school. He majored in sociology and in his junior year decided to enter the ministry. Voicing his opinion on the role of education, he wrote, "The function of education .. is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society... The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals."

After graduating from Morehouse College in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary to further his training for the ministry. While there he attended a lecture by Modecai Johnson, president of Howard University, on Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. Johnson's lecture provided King the direction he needed for his life. "His message was so profound and electrifying," King later said, "that I left the meeting and bought a half dozen books on Gandhi's life and works."

After graduating from Crozer in 1951 with the highest grade average in his class, King entered Boston University as a doctoral student. In Boston he met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. King received his doctorate from Boston University in 1955, then became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The future course of his ministry became apparent when he joined the supporters of Rosa Parks, a black woman who had been arrested in Montgomery for quietly refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person. King also began his relationship with Ralph Abernathy, a minister with whom he would work for the rest of his life.

In 1957 King and Abernathy were instrumental in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of several groups King helped start. On January 14 that year, King's home and church in Montgomery were bombed as violence against black protesters continued. After this bombing King began to reveal more of the dual nature of his personality—the desire to live and fight for the rights of black people, but also the resignation to die and thus become a martyr. William Robert Miller, one of King's biographers, commented on this nature: "When he did obey what seemed to be an occasional irresistible inner compulsion, he said that he felt seriously called to be a martyr--but he found it extremely difficult, and equally difficult to admit that he was worried about what he regarded as his inadequacy for the destiny that God had given him. After the Montgomery bombing, King had said: "Lord, I hope no one will have to die as a result of our struggle for freedom in Montgomery. Certainly I don't want to die. But if anyone has to die, let it be me."

Though always conscious of the possibility of death, King was steadfastly dedicated to nonviolence because of its power over violence. "Nonviolence can touch men where the law cannot reach them," he felt, because nonviolence allows the just consciences of the "great decent majority" of people to shine through, as Gandhi had demonstrated. He knew black people would have to suffer while adopting the role of nonviolence. "The Negro all over the South must come to the point that he can say to his white brother: `We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we will not obey your evil laws. We will soon wear you down by pure capacity to suffer!'"

King's life was filled with confrontations, for he was always ready to rush to a city or a scene where he could help demonstrate the power of nonviolence. In March of 1963, the scene was Birmingham, Alabama. A New York Times reporter had said that Birmingham was a city that was culturally and racially backward: "The striking thing about Birmingham," he wrote, "is that it seems so advanced industrially and so retarded politically." Into this fray King threw himself. He was one of the black leaders whom most people watched and from whom the most was expected. He led with stirring oratory and insistence on nonviolence: "If you don't go," he said of the proposed march, "don't hinder me! We will march nonviolently. We shall force this nation, this city, this world, to fact its own conscience.

We will make the God of love in the white man triumph over the Satan of segregation that is in him... The struggle is not between black and white. But between good and evil."

These were the days when King began to use the language and wisdom of the visionary. In Detroit he had used the "I have a dream" motif which was to carry him to his greatest heights of persuasiveness. Speaking at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, from the Lincoln Memorial, he began the litany that would sound in the hearts of every listener: He dreamed of that day, he said, when "my four little children .. will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character." It was a note that touched the very heart of America. King ended is talk with the stirring lines: "Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Through the years King continued to be the center around which a whirlwind of events made history. In 1963 he became Timemagazine's Man of the Year. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest recipient of that prize in history. And through the years he was always willing to demonstrate for civil rights, as he did in leading a march across Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 21, 1965. His resulting speech, delivered from the steps of Alabama Capitol in Montgomery, demonstrated again King's unequaled gift for oratory. How long, he asked, would it take for justice to take over the world? "How long? How long? Because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," he quoted from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Though himself a nonviolent person, King was surrounded by violence and by allies who preached violence on his part. In Harlem while autographing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom he was stabbed. King was frequently jailed, but he regarded this as a realistic and practical way of symbolizing his willingness to suffer and sacrifice for the common good. He expected no less of fellow sympathizers, black and white. Nonviolence "may mean going to jail," he said. "If such is the case the resister must be willing to fill the jail houses of the South. It may even mean physical death. But if physical death is the price a man must pay to free his children and his white brethren from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing could be more redemptive." Further, King's marches were not always successful. In 1966 he had taken on militancy in Chicago, further arguing for nonviolence, but did not win. Such radical leaders as Stokely Carmichael criticized King for his stand.

Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem derisively called the great leader Martin "Loser" King. And at times even his closest friends, such as Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy, began to feel that King was becoming so visionary as to be ineffective. King's wife, Coretta, remarked on her husband's demons in life: "My husband was what psychologists call a guilt-ridden man. He was so conscious of his awesome responsibilities that he literally set himself the task of never making an error in the affairs of the Movement."

In the violent America of the 1960s, perhaps it was inevitable that the driven civil rights leader would meet fatal violence. He went to Memphis, Tennessee, to help out striking garbage workers in their push toward better salaries. Perhaps it was fitting that King saw his highest and most tragic goal in this setting. "Well, I don't know what will happen now," he said in his speech. "But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. I won't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long time. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land." He darkened his vision with strong hints of his own doom: "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. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man." And he ended this emotional climb with the words: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

King was assassinated April 4, 1968, on the balcony outside his Memphis motel room. Perhaps no more fitting tribute could be raised to the slain believer in the power of nonviolence than one of his own statements: "If a man hasn't found something he will die for, he isn't fit to live. .

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