Africans In Diaspora

Martin Luther King Jr Civil Rights Activist & Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Story Highlights

  • Early Life of Martin Luther King Jr
  • Activism & Personal Life of Martin Luther King Jr
  • Martin Luther King Jr Death & Legacies

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) born Michael Lewis King, later changed by his father to Martin Luther, after the German preacher and reformist was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence and civil disobedience.

He was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement in the United States from 1954 through 1968. He was later killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee and was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he later died.

His last words were to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at a planned event. He said “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty”.

Early Life of Martin Luther King Jr

As a child, King suffered from depression through most of his childhood. He rolled with a white boy whose father owned a business near his family’s home. When the boys were six(6), they started school.

King had to attend a school for African Americans and the other boy went to one for whites. King later lost his friend because the boy’s father no longer wanted the King to play with his son.

King was a precocious child. He skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grade, entering college when he was only fifteen. At 19, he received a degree in sociology and earned a PhD in theology seven years later at 26.

He eventually garnered another fifty or so honorary degrees from various colleges and universities around the country before his death at the age of 39.

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Activism & Personal Life of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1957, King and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1958, he survived an assassination attempt after being stabbed in the chest by a woman.  In 1963, the FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, tapped King’s telephone line suspecting he was a Communist.

Also in the 1963 March on Washington, King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as “I Have a Dream”. It came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.

On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, until Malala Yousafzai in 2014, which was awarded to him for leading nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S. He donated all $54,123 of the prize money to the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. organized and led marches for blacks right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King was jailed 29 times, charged with everything from civil disobedience to driving five miles over the speed limit.

King became romantically involved with the white daughter of an immigrant German woman. He planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites. King broke off the relationship after six months. He never recovered.

Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

Martin Luther King Jr Death & Legacies

On April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. He died at the hospital an hour later at 7:05 p.m.

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King made a request that at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors be made, but that it be said that he tried to feed the hungry clothe the naked and serve humanity.

President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7, 1968 a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader. On January 17, 2000, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all fifty states in the U.S.

King’s autopsy later revealed that stress had taken a major toll on his body. Despite being just 39 at the time of his death, one of the doctors noted that he had “<em>the heart of a 60-year-old.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian award of the United States of America to Martin Luther King.


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