St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 9
A man who found his mission and became something else
Martin’s childhood was not an easy one. As well as the difficulties that all black people experienced in the 1940s and 50s, his beloved grandmother died. Unable to cope with the loss, the grieving twelve year old tried to commit suicide (it is alleged) when he jumped out of an upstairs window. He became precocious. He didn’t attend ninth, or eleventh grade, but entered the Morehouse College in Atlanta when he was fifteen. He was a good looking boy and popular with his fellow students – especially the female ones.
For the first couple of years Martin questioned
religion, saying he wouldn’t enter the ministry. However, after taking Bible classes, his
faith was renewed. He earned a sociology
degree from Morehouse and went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary, in
Chester Pennsylvania. He excelled in all
of his studies, was valedictorian of his class in 1951, elected student body
president, and given a fellowship for graduate study.
In his final year, Martin’s mentor was theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who became the most important influence in his intellectual and spiritual development. Martin was offered places at Yale, Edinburgh in Scotland, and Boston University. He chose Boston. It was while he was studying that he met, Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory School in Boston.
Married in June 1953 Martin and Coretta had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice. In 1954, while working on his dissertation, Martin became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery. In 1955, after completing his Ph.D. he was awarded his degree. He was twenty-five.
Montgomery City Bus Boycott
On the night Rosa Parks was arrested there was a meeting between the head of the local NAACP, Martin Luther King Jr. and half a dozen local civil rights leaders. The outcome was a citywide bus boycott. For 382 days, Montgomery’s African American community walked, putting up with harassment, intimidation and violence. King's home, and the home of the NAACP leader, was vandalised, but it did not stop them. The black community took legal action against the city regulation arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's “separate is never equal.” (A phrase derived from the 1890 Louisiana law “equal but separate”). Eventually, after being defeated in several courts and suffering huge financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the rule on segregation on public transport.
St Peter’s Review – Autumn 2013 Edition – Page 10
Nobel Peace Prize for 1964
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act with Dr King and family looking on.
From 1965 to 1967, Dr King’s Civil Rights Movement spread to other major American cities. However, his non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many black militants who considered his methods passive, weak, and too late. To address this criticism, Dr King linked discrimination with poverty. He formed a multiracial coalition to address the economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people. Later he extended his civil rights efforts to the Vietnam War, saying America's involvement was discriminatory to the poor.
If we shoot men of peace, we are left with men of violence
At the root of Dr King’s civil rights conviction was his faith in the basic goodness of man, and the great potential of American democracy. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all men.
“Let freedom ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state, and we will speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
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(Reinhold Niebuhr - 1892-1971)
Information and quotes sourced from Martin Luther King Jr’s biography, The New York Times, and the written reports of several Civil Rights witnesses. Photographs: OPA Online Public Access, Stock photographs, Free Liberal and Google Free photographs.