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Martin Luther King, Jr. came of age during a time when Jim Crow laws reigned supreme, a time when “separate but equal” was the accepted doctrine (Cornell University Law), a time when things were always separate but never equal for blacks and whites. This was a time when blacks were not permitted to use the same stores as whites, to stay in the same hotels, or to attend the same schools as whites. Oppression was practiced throughout America. It was during this time that the winds of change started to blow.

King, one of many Civil Rights leaders in the United States, rose to prominence due to his exceptional leadership and oratory skills. It is true that the Civil Rights Movement would have occurred with or without Martin Luther King, Jr., but it is also true that without King, the Civil Rights Movement would not have had the same impact on society. It has been said that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not make the Civil Rights Movement, but the Civil Rights Movement made Martin Luther King, Jr. (Dyson 2000). The events that occurred during the 50’s and 60’s gave King the arena in which to shine. Author Michael Eric Dyson said, “Martin Luther King, Jr., is the greatest American in our history because in his life the contradictory meanings of American democracy found a perfect and healing embodiment. King is the great thesaurus of American identity…King’s genius was the willingness to risk everything he was вЂ" a preacher, a leader, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a black man вЂ" to make America all that it could become...He freed the American soul to love its black self and, hence, to love itself wholly and universally. He embraced the best of America and made it better.” (Dyson 2000, 306).

Dr. King’s inspirational career was cut short on April 3, 1968 when he was assassinated on the balcony walkway of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee. The previous day King spoke to protesters in support of local sanitation workers’ demands for higher pay and union recognition. King reportedly said in the speech, “Like anybody, I’d like to live a long life, but long-ge-ve-ty has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve s-e-e-e-e-n the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” (Dyson 2000, 2).

Historic Roots

On January 15, 1929, Michael L. King Jr. was born to Alberta and Michael L. King Sr., a Southern Baptist minister. King grew up in the Southern Baptist Church singing hymns and reciting Biblical passages. Both King’s father and maternal grandfather were very involved in the pre-civil rights movement as members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Michael King Sr., serving as president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP and the Atlanta Civic and Political League, taught his children to be proud of their race and to boycott segregated businesses. In 1934 King’s father took a trip to Europe and spent time at the World Conference of Baptist Ministers in Berlin Germany. This visit had such a remarkable effect on King’s father that he returned home and changed his and his eldest son’s name to Martin Luther King (Ling 2002).

King attended Morehouse College with dreams of pursing a career in medicine or law. During his last years at Morehouse, these dreams were dismissed in favor of following in his father’s footsteps, citing “an inner urge to serve humanity” (Frady 2002, 18). King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he first studied the principles of Thoreau and Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. After graduating as valedictorian of his Crozer class, King ventured to Boston University to begin the doctoral program. It was here that he met his future wife, Ms Coretta Scott, a graduate student at the New England Conservatory of Music (Frady 2002). Coretta and Martin Luther King, Jr. were married in the summer of 1953. Upon graduating from Boston University, King accepted a position with Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Frady 2002). It was here in Montgomery in December of 1955, that the



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