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Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King Jr.
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Martin Luther King Jr.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Ph.D., born Michael King, (January 15, 1929April 4, 1968) was a Nobel Laureate, Baptist minister, and African American civil rights activist. He is one of the most significant leaders in U.S. history and in the modern history of nonviolence, and is considered a hero, peacemaker and martyr by many people around the world. A decade and a half after his 1968 assassination, Martin Luther King Day, a U.S. holiday, was established in his honor.
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Background and family

King was born in Atlanta, Georgia to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. (Birth records list King's first name as Michael, apparently due to some confusion on the part of the family doctor regarding the true name of his father, who was known as Mike throughout his childhood.) He graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts degree (in Sociology) in 1948, and from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951. He received his Ph.D. in Systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.

King married Coretta Scott on June 18,1953. The wedding ceremony took place in Scott's parents' house in Marion, Alabama, and was performed by King's father.

King and Scott had four children:

Civil rights activism

In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a leader of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott which began when Rosa Parks refused to comply with Jim Crow law and surrender her seat to a white man. The boycott lasted for 381 days. The situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on intrastate buses.

Following the campaign, King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization until his death. The organization's nonviolent principles were criticized by the younger, more radical blacks and challenged by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) then headed by James Foreman.

The SCLC derived its membership principally from black communities associated with Baptist churches. King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mohandas Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. King correctly identified that organized, nonviolent protest against the racist system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Indeed, journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that made the Civil Rights Movement the single most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.

King is perhaps most famous for his "" speech, given in front of the  during the
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King is perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

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

King and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out in often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent. King and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful protest movement in Albany, in 19611962, where divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts; in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963; and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. King and the SCLC joined forces with SNCC in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for a number of months.

The March on Washington

King and SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, then attempted to organise a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, for March 25, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7, was aborted due to mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day since has become known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King's nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he had attempted to delay the march until March 8, but the march was carried out against his wishes and without his presence by local civil rights workers. The footage of the police brutality against the protestors was broadcast extensively across the nation and aroused a national sense of public outrage.

The second attempt at the march on March 9 was ended when King stopped the procession at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, an action which he seemed to have negotiated with city leaders beforehand. This unexpected action aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, with the agreement and support of President Johnson, and it was during this march that Willie Ricks coined the phrase "Black Power" (widely credited to Stokely Carmichael).

King, representing SCLC, was among the leaders of the so-called "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were: Roy Wilkins, NAACP; Whitney Young, Jr., Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). For King, this role was another which courted controversy, as he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation, but the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.

The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the South and a very public opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital. Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the South. However, the group acquiesced to presidential presure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone.

As a result, some civil rights activists who felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington," and members of the Nation of Islam who attended the march faced a temporary suspension.[1] (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/marchonwashington.html)

The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for the District of Columbia, then governed by congressional committee.

Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protestors in Washington history. King's "I Have a Dream" speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded, along with President Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address", as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.

Throughout his career of service, King wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his long experience as a preacher. His "Letter from Birmingham Jail", written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.

A controversial new call

Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States' role in the Vietnam War. On April 4, 1967— exactly one year before his death— King spoke out strongly against the US's role in the war, insisting that the US was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the US "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." But he also argued that the country needed larger moral changes:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." [2] (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html)

King was long hated by many white southern segregationists, but this speech turned the more mainstream media against him. TIME called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi (a propaganda radio station run by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War)", and the Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

The speech was a reflection of King's evolving political advocacy in his later years. He began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation. Toward the end of his life, King more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. Though his public language was guarded, so as to avoid being linked to communism by his political enemies, in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism [3] (http://balder.prohosting.com/jerryku/redrom/mlk.html)):

You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry.... Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong... with capitalism.... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. (Frogmore, S.C. November 14, 1966. Speech in front of his staff.)

In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the "Poor People's Campaign" to address issues of economic justice. The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

On April 3, 1968, King prophetically told a euphoric crowd:

It really doesn't matter what happens now.... some began to... talk about the threats that were out -- what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.... Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity 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 seen 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. And so I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Assassination

King was assassinated the next evening, April 4, 1968, at 6:01pm, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while preparing to lead a local march in support of the heavily black Memphis sanitation workers' union. Friends inside the apartment heard the shot fired and ran to the balcony to find King shot in the jaw. He was pronounced dead several hours later. Four days later, President Johnson declared a national day of mourning for their lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral that same day.

James Earl Ray confessed to the shooting and was convicted, though he recanted his confession days later. In 1999, Coretta Scott King, King's widow (also a civil rights leader), along with the rest of King's family won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers, who claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found that "governmental agencies were parties" to the assassination plot.[4] (http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/WFPonMLK.pdf)

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted "The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. ... I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray." [5] (http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/01/15/1710221&mode=thread&tid=25) King biographer David Garrow disagrees with William Pepper's claims that the government killed King. He is supported by King assassination author Gerald Posner.http://www.historynewsnetwork.org/articles/10325.html

Legacy

Since his death, King's reputation has grown to become one of the most revered names in American history to the point where he is compared with Abraham Lincoln. Supporters of this idea remark that both were leaders credited with strongly advancing human rights against poor odds in a nation divided against itself on the issue - and were assassinated in part for it. Even posthumous accusations of marital infidelity and academic plagiarism have not seriously dented his public esteem, but merely reinforced the image of a very human hero and leader.

In 1980, King's boyhood home in Atlanta and several other nearby buildings were declared as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. In 1986, a U.S. national holiday was established in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., which is called Martin Luther King Day. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King's birthday. On January 18, 1993, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states. In addition, many U.S. cities have officially renamed one of their streets to honor King.

Since his death, Coretta Scott King has followed her husband's footsteps and is active in matters of social justice and civil rights. The same year Martin Luther King was assassinated, Mrs. King established the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to preserving his legacy and the work of championing nonviolent conflict resolution and tolerance worldwide. Dexter King currently serves as the Center's president and CEO. Yolanda King is a motivational speaker, author and founder of Higher Ground Productions, an organization specializing in diversity training.

King was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.

King and the FBI

 in the  with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King (second from left).
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John F. Kennedy in the oval office with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King (second from left).

King had a mutually antagonistic relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), especially its director, J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI began tracking King and the SCLC in 1961. Its investigations were largely superficial until 1962, when it learned that one of King's most trusted advisers was Stanley Levison. Levison was a man whom the bureau suspected of involvement with the Communist Party, USA, to which another key King lieutenant, Hunter Pitts O'Dell, was also linked by sworn testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The Bureau placed wiretaps on Levison and King's home and office phones, and bugged King's rooms in hotels as he traveled across the country. The Bureau also informed then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and then-President John F. Kennedy, both of whom unsuccessfully tried to persuade King to dissociate himself from Levison. For his part, King adamantly denied having any connections to Communism, stating at one point that "there are as many Communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida"—to which Hoover responded by calling King "the most notorious liar in the country."

The attempt to smear King as a communist was in keeping with the feeling of many segregationists that blacks in the South were happy with their lot, but had been stirred up by "communists" and "outside agitators." Movement leaders countered that voter disenfranchisement, lack of education and employment opportunities, discrimination and vigilante violence were the reasons for the strength of the Civil Rights Movement, and that blacks had the intelligence and motivation to organize on their own.

HUAC later was discredited for its coercion of witnesses and the manner in which it sought to implicate individuals with vague and often sweeping accusations and assumptions of guilt by association. The Committee was renamed in 1969 and eventually abolished.

Later, the focus of the Bureau's investigations shifted to attempting to "discredit" King through revelations regarding his private life. FBI surveillance of King, some of it since made public, demonstrates that he also engaged in numerous extramarital sexual affairs. Accounts of such behavior also have been provided by King's associates, including close friend Ralph Abernathy. The Bureau distributed reports regarding such affairs to the executive branch, friendly reporters, potential coalition partners and funding sources of the SCLC, and King's family. The Bureau also sent anonymous letters to King threatening to reveal information if he didn't cease his civil rights work.

Finally, the Bureau's investigation shifted away from King's personal life to intelligence and counterintelligence work on the direction of the SCLC and the Black Power movement.

January 31, 1977, in the cases of Bernard S. Lee v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. and Southern Christian Leadership Conference v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. United States District Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr., ordered that all known copies of the recorded tapes, and transcripts resulting from the FBI's microphonic surveillance of King, between 1963 and 1968, be sealed and made secret within the National Archives until the year 2027.

Six FBI agents were present at Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. However, most believe that the FBI actually had nothing to do with the murder. Across from the Lorraine Motel, next to the building that James Earl Ray was hiding in, was an abandoned fire station. The FBI was assigned to observe King during the appearance he was planning to make on the Lorraine Motel balcony later that day, and utilized the fire station as a makeshift base. Using papered-over windows with peepholes cut into them, the agents watched over the scene until MLK was shot. Immediately following the shooting, all six agents rushed out of the station and were the first people to administer first-aid to Dr. King.

Plagiarism and authorship issues

King at times has been accused of plagiarizing parts of his doctoral thesis and other academic papers. As one King researcher has written, "instances of textual appropriation can be seen in his earliest extant writings as well as his dissertation. The pattern is also noticeable in his speeches and sermons throughout his career."[6] (http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/additional_resources/articles/palimp.htm) Boston University, where King got his PhD in theology, conducted an investigation that found he plagiarized approximately a third of his doctoral thesis from a paper written three years earlier by another graduate student. [7] (http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/mlking.asp) See Editing Martin Luther King, Jr.:Political and Scholarly Issues (http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/additional_resources/articles/palimp.htm) by Clayborn Carson. The university decided not to revoke his degree.

Portions of many of King's speeches were borrowed from other preachers, both fellow African Americans and white radio evangelists. Perhaps most notably, the closing passage from King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was borrowed from Archibald Carey, Jr.'s address to the 1952 Republican National Convention. The major similarity is that both speeches end with a recitation of the first verse of Samuel Francis Smith's popular patriotic hymn "America" (My Country ’Tis of Thee), and the names of some mountains mentioned from each exhorts "let freedom ring" are the same in both speeches. Keith Miller, in Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Its Sources, argues that such borrowing, which he terms "voice merging", follows in a long tradition of folk preaching, particularly in the African American church, and should not necessarily be termed plagiarism. On the contrary, he views King's skillful combination of language from different sources as a major oratorical skill.

Other awards and recognition

In 1965, the American Jewish Committee presented (http://www.ajc.org/InTheMedia/Publications.asp?did=403) the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the American Liberties Medallion for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty." Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks (http://www.ajc.org/InTheMedia/Publications.asp?did=403&pid=930), "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free."

See also

Reference

  • The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., David Garrow, Penguin Books: New York, New York, 1981. ISBN 0140064869

External links

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The assasination of Martin Luther King - What Really Happened?http://crimemagazine.com/05/martinlutherking,0612-5.htm
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