Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not only a prominent American civil rights activist, but also a social reformer and an author. He is often referred to as the human rights icon since he called for equal rights for all without resorting to violence or aggression.
“Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King’s original name was Michael King, Jr. His name was later changed to Martin after the German protestant leader Martin Luther. Martin Luther attended Booker T. Washington High School in Georgia and graduated in sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta. After studying theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, he pursued his doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University. King was awarded the Doctor of philosophy on June 5, 1955.
Achievements of Martin Luther King Jr.
The greatest achievement of King was undoubtedly as a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. He defended the Americans with African descent and fought for their rights. Martin Luther was greatly influenced by Howard Thurman, a civil rights leader, theologian and educator. He was a classmate of Martin Luther’s father at Morehouse College.
King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and believed that resistance to non-violence is the only weapon to fight against inequality and injustice.He visited the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi in India in 1959. This trip was a turning point in his life and deepened his belief in the principle of non-violence and his commitment to the civil rights movement.
Martin Luther played a prominent role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955. The boycott was called for in Montgomery, Alabama to fight against racial discrimination on the city’s public transit system. The situation became worse following the arrest of Rosa Parks, as she refused to vacate her seat to a white passenger. The king’s house was bombed and he was arrested during this agitation, which marked the end to racial segregation on Montgomery public buses.
Martin Luther instituted the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an American civil rights organization in 1957. The organization aimed at supporting the philosophy of non-violence. It was led by King as the President along with Ralph Abernathy and other activists.
As an ardent believer of the Gandhian principles of non-violence, he enforced the non-violent techniques in the protests organized by SCLC. Luther also fought for the civil rights of blacks, like, right to vote, labor rights, etc. These rights were incorporated with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, 1964 and the Voting Rights Act, 1965.
Yet another substantial achievement of Martin Luther was in the Birmingham campaign, which aimed at promoting civil rights for African-Americans. The campaign was basically directed to mark an end to preferential and segregated civil and economic policies. The King and SCLC were also actively involved in the protests in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. Nightly marches were organized in the city; several marchers were assaulted by the whites and even jailed.
Martin Luther, along with other prominent leaders like, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and James L. Farmer, Jr. was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington in 1963. The demands behind the march were putting an end to racial separatism in school, abolition of racial discrimination in employment, minimum wage for all workers, etc.
Millions of protesters from diverse backgrounds attended the march, making it a success. It was the largest gathering in the history of Washington. Luther’s speech, “I Have a Dream” was one of the most vibrant speeches of American history along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech.
Martin Luther also had several awards and recognition to his credit. He was awarded at least fifty honorary degrees from various colleges and universities across the United States. Luther was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on October 14, 1964 for his significant role in bringing racial discrimination to an end in the United States. Besides these, he was awarded other significant awards like: American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee, the John Dewey Award, the John F. Kennedy Award and many more. He was posthumously awarded the Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, the Rosa L. Parks Award, Grammy Award for his speech ” Why I oppose the war in Vietnam.”, etc.
He published several books where he highlighted the oppression faced by the blacks and their brutal conditions. ‘Stride Toward Freedom’, ‘The Measure of a Man’ and ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ are some of his publications.
He was also an excellent orator and delivered remarkable speeches during his career span. “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”, is a line from one of his most recognizable speeches, “I Have a Dream”.
Martin Luther King Jr. is an iconic figure not only in the United States of America but around the world as well. He was assassinated on 4th April, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. King will be revered forever as someone who sought equal rights for all irrespective of race and color.
The third Monday of January is celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in his commemoration and is an official holiday in the United States.