The image of Martin Luther King Jr. is one that has inherent contradictions. On one hand, he is revered and looked at with awe for his martyrdom to nonviolence. There is another section who view him as an extremist, who promoted militancy and insurgency. But without doubt, he is the most symbolic of all the African-American leaders who fought in the civil rights struggle.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King, at N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. he was the first son and second child born.
The five-foot seven-inch tall King was a ladies' man, who was a good dancer. He was an indifferent student, who did his schooling at Morehouse, with a grade point average of 2.48 on a 4-point scale.
At the age of nineteen, he entered the Christian ministry, and was ordained in February 1948 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. He married Coretta Scott, younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurray Scott of Marion, Alabama, on June 18, 1953. Once he was ordained, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959.
It was during this period that a sea change took place in his life. He began reading the works of the iconoclastic theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. King also developed an interest in Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated a few years earlier. Mahatma Gandhi's concept of nonviolence and civil disobedience had a huge impact on him.
Dr. Martin Luther King's involvement with the civil rights movement began with the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks on December 1st , 1955. Mrs. Parks, an African-American seamstress, on her way home from work, was arrested for not giving a white bus rider her seat. This was not the first time that an incident of this nature had taken place. Moreover, the victim was a woman, and was a very familiar face in the Montgomery African-American community.
Dr. King teamed up with other African-American community leaders and formulated a plan for protest. The African-American residents of the city were asked to boycott the bus company, by walking and driving instead. The boycott lasted for more than 381 days, one of the longest boycotts in history. The United States Supreme Court would end the boycott by declaring that Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on buses were illegal.
The success of the boycott encouraged and convinced Dr. King that peaceful mass action could bring about change. He soon became a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968.
King reached the acme of his powers at the age of thirty-five, when he became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 in continuance of the civil rights movement. At the time of his selection, he was in hospital after suffering from extreme fatigue. On August 28, 1963, he made a speech that would go down as one of the most inspirational and famous speeches in history. It was the "I have a Dream" speech at Lincoln Memorial, in front of an audience of 200,000 people.
But the more success that he enjoyed for his non violent ways, the more violent it became, in other parts of the country. The matter became extremely politicized, and the FBI put a surveillance team on him. Evidence of his phone wires being tapped was received when the FBI dutifully recorded a domestic quarrel between Dr. King and his wife.
It was in the evening on April 4th, 1964, that Dr. King was felled by an assassin's bullet while he stood in the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. The killer was later identified as James Earl Ray. Dr. King was in the city to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers.
However, along with the fame and accolades came conflict within the movement's leadership. His methods direct contradicted that of some other black leaders. Malcolm X's message of self-defense and Black Nationalism resonated with northern, urban blacks more effectively than King's call for nonviolence; King also faced an adversary in the form of 'Black Power' proponent, Stokely Carmichael.
The area where he was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza, and surrounded by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, a 23 acre area was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977, The U.S. Department of the Interior made it a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980.