Born on January 15th 1929, Martin Luther King was to become a Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination on 4th April 1968. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA, Martin was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King senior. The family name was originally just King, but Michael Luther King senior added the ‘Luther’ in honour of the medieval German religious reformer, Martin Luther.
Having followed in his father’s footsteps and now a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. became a non-violent activist for the American Civil Rights Movement through the promotion of christian principles. In 1955, he led the Montgomery bus boycott, when black men and women refused to use the USA’s racially segregated public transport system. He also helped found the Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. Via the SCLC, King led an unsuccessful movement in 1962 to fight, peacefully, against racial desegregation in Albany, Georgia. The following year he helped organise another protest at Birmingham, Alabama. Perhaps most famously, in 1963, during a march on Washington to highlight the issue of racial inequality, he delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
After being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, King continued to combat racial inequality through peaceful protest. In 1965, he helped to organize further mass marches, as well as a campaign in Chicago to get rid of segregated housing. Ultimately, however, his ability to bring people to together in protest against racism. would cost him his life. There were still many people in America who resented the arguments and reasoning he was promoting, and one of them was James Earl Ray. And so it would be that during the planning of a national occupation of Washington, D.C. on 4th April 1968, which was to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, he was assassinated by Ray.
Despite his untimely, premature death, Ray’s actions have in some ways even increased the impact Martin Luther King Junior made on the world’s political and social stage. His insistence on making his point via nonviolent means was an inspiration to many; and his legacy of work lives on today.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.