Getting to Know Dr. King

Liz Daley, Staff Writer

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Just another January 15th, a day we get off in honor of Martin Luther King. Another holiday for a fallen American hero. Sometimes we forget what that day even means to  Americans. Is it just an excuse for a day off for most people? What about the person behind the holiday? What did he do to deserve a whole day in remembrance?

  Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate for the Civil Rights of African-Americans. The man behind the holiday is probably most widely known for being the front-runner of the Civil Rights Movement and the leader of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leader Conference). He was a minister and a peaceful man that admired the teachings of Gandhi. Reading from Gandhi’s teachings, he got the idea to use non-violent ways to change the way others looked upon his people of color. Peaceful protests and speeches were just a few ways he brought civil rights into the light.

  Everyone knows about Dr. King to some degree. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t heard or felt moved when the  “I Have a Dream” speech is played, but there is so much more to him that people don’t know about. Did you know he received the Nobel Peace Prize at only thirty-five years-old? Or, perhaps, that the name he was born with wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr.?

 As important as the current news and figures are to us in the present day, it’s important to know the past as well. Now, we are going back to a time period in America where everything was different. African-Americans couldn’t even sit where they wanted on a bus or get the education they desired. It was a terrible time, but that would eventually change, and now we also get to know the man who was a big part of changing those times.

  Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia as Michael Luther King Jr. to his parents, Michael King Sr. and Alberta King. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t his real name, much to many people’s surprise. It wouldn’t be until he was much older that he would change his name to follow in his father’s footsteps after his father changed his name from Michael to Martin. He did this to honor a famous reformer he had admired, and a young Dr. King would proceed to change his name from Michael to Martin like his father.

  As a child, he would start school at the age of five. He attended the heavily segregated schools in Georgia and breezed his way through school. It was said that he was an excellent student, as Dr. King skipped ninth and eleventh grade, causing him to graduate at the young age of fifteen. Something would stand in his way during his school years, however.

  Before finishing his education, however, Martin Luther King Jr. went through a terrible tragedy. He was at a parade when his grandmother suffered a heart attack, and unfortunately did not live through it. Grief stricken, Dr. King attempted to jump out of a building and attempted to commit suicide at age twelve. Just like many people today, he struggled with depression much through his childhood which would continue through his adulthood.

  After finishing his high school education, Dr. King attended Morehouse college and earned his degree in sociology. He then would continue his education to get his doctorate at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he graduated as the valedictorian of the class of 1951. He also met his wife Coretta Scott during this time, and together they would have four kids.

  As he grew older, Dr. King later started to develop an interest in politics involving how African-Americans were treated. In 1955, he became involved in the widely known Rosa Park’s case. He met with E.D. Nixon to discuss a plan that involved creating a bus boycott on the segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. The process itself took him a little over a year, but with the help of others, Dr. King helped rid the city of Montgomery from segregated buses.

  This was a win in itself for Dr. King. He had won against the social injustices placed against his race, and this would encourage him to do more for African-Americans.

  To continue his fight, Dr. King met with Ralph Abernathy and sixty other ministers. This was the start of what would become the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which would give a base to those involved in the civil rights movement. He was elected to be the president of the organization and remained the president until his death, in 1968.

  Dr. King, who was very well-known for his efforts with finding peaceful ways to protest against society, became supportive in movements such as the “sit-in” movement. This movement was supportive of African-Americans staying seated when asked to move from the colored section to the back of buses and other forms of transportation.

  However, in 1960 Dr. King along with thirty-six others were arrested for attempting to use lunch-counter service at a store but were denied. Refusing to leave, the authorities were notified, and he was arrested for it. The mayor of Atlanta soon had Dr. King released, worrying how such an arrest would reflect on his city, but not long after that, Dr. King was arrested for a traffic violation. He was released promptly after soon-to-be president John F. Kennedy called, not approving of the way Dr. King had been treated.

  As many times as society may have tried to silence Dr. King, they never could. Three years later, in the year 1963, Dr. King was once again arrested, and he, deciding to start a campaign called the Birmingham Campaign, stood in front of thousands requesting for the social injustice to come to an end. He stood in front of over 200,000 people on the Lincoln Memorial and began what would become one of the most famous speeches in America. “I Have a Dream” talked about creating a place where people would not be judged for the way they looked but for how they acted.

  By the time 1968 rolled around, Dr. King became aware of the slow progressing of the Civil Rights Movement. It slightly frustrated him at the fact that it was taking much longer than expected, but Dr. King worked persistently towards his goal. His work, though, was coming to an end because on April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” It was said that in this speech, Dr. King seemed to foreshadow his death which would occur the very next day.

  The next day, Dr. King stood on his balcony that was attached to his hotel room when James Earl Ray, who had a history as a criminal, shot Dr. King. He was pronounced dead an hour later at the age of thirty-nine.

   Even after his death, Dr. King continued to have an impact on the Civil Rights Movement, and even fifty years after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. continues to influence the movements occurring today. He was a historical figure that many know of and will be known for years to come. Dr. King fought for the rights his race deserved, and fifty years later, he is still fighting, even after his death.