|Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on
January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Martin and Alberta King.
His father, Martin Luther King, Sr., was a minister at Ebenezer
Baptist Church. The younger King would also become a minister.
Introduced to racial discrimination and prejudice at an early
age, King's experiences helped him to become a great leader and
advocate of equal rights for all.
An excellent pupil, King was admitted to Morehouse College at
the age of fifteen, and graduated as at eighteen. He continued his
studies at Pennsylvania's Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston
University. Upon graduating from Boston University (King met
Coretta Scott here) with a Ph.D. in theology, King moved to
Montgomery, Alabama, to serve as minister at the Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church. He and Coretta were joined in marriage on June 18,
Martin Luther King, Jr. had great respect for Mohandas Gandhi, and he later used Gandhi's
examples of passive resistance in his own role as a leader. King
also studied the teachings of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Even
though he was met with violence, death threats, and jail time, King
continued to spread the word of nonviolent resistance. On one
occasion, his house was even bombed. King had a near-death
experience on September 20, 1958, when an insane lady named Izola
Curry stabbed him in the chest with a steel letter opener during a
book signing. King had to undergo surgery to remove the letter
For his efforts, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964,
and he was selected as Time magazine's first
African-American "Man of the Year."
[ For more information about King's leadership and actions
during the Civil Rights Movement, please read the other articles in
this section of the site.]
At the young age of thirty nine, Martin Luther King, Jr. was
assassinated on April 4, 1968, at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A
forty-year-old white man named James Earl Ray was accused of
In early March of 1968, King had traveled to Memphis in hopes of
bringing about better conditions for striking sanitation workers.
There, he decided to hold a march. A riot took place instead, and
King was forced to return to Atlanta, Georgia. He would return to
Memphis on April 3, 1968, in hopes of holding a successful
Prior to his March 1968 visit to Memphis, King had been trying
to lead a Poor People's Campaign to fight poverty. Unfortunately,
King did not have much luck. He also spoke up against the Vietnam
War, which caused President Lyndon B. Johnson to become
James Earl Ray, an escaped convict who had been missing since
April 23, 1967, posed as a Harvey Lowmeyer and purchased a 30.06
Remington rifle, a telescopic sight, and ammunition at the
Birmingham, Alabama Aeromarine Supply Company. Ray traveled to
Atlanta, Georgia, in hopes of tracking down King, but discovered
that the African-American leader would be in Memphis, Tennessee,
instead. There, Ray used the alias John Willard to check into a
boarding house. (Ray also used the names Eric Starvo Galt and Ramon
George Sneyd as covers.) It was from a bathroom window in this
boarding house that Ray shot and ended King's life.
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. had spoken to a crowd
of 2,000 in Memphis, Tennessee. He told the crowd that he might not
live to see his dream of racial equality come true. He assured his
listeners, however, that their struggles for racial equality would
one day be rewarded, and that they would "get to the promised
land." Ironically, the words of Dr. King's last speech became
reality. He would be assassinated the following evening at 6:01 pm.
on April 4, 1968.
It took over two months, but the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) was finally able to track down Ray. He had
escaped to London, England, and the FBI had received the help of
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Scotland Yard. On March 10,
1969, James Earl Ray was sentenced to ninety nine years in jail
after pleading guilty to murdering King.
Following the release of the news of Martin Luther King Jr.'s
death, his assassination was met with violence in the form of
riots, fires, and gunfire. Unfortunately, King's peace-promoting
teachings were not followed, and the racial tensions caused many
injuries and deaths. On April 7, 1968, three days after the
assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to heal the wounds
of the nation by setting the day aside for national mourning. The
next day, a peaceful march was held in Memphis. On April 9, Dr.
King's funeral was held with 100,000+ in attendance. He was buried
in South View Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia,
King's grave marker bore the following words:
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
1929 - 1968
"Free at last, Free at last,
These were often the closing words to King's powerful speeches.
Thank God Almighty
I'm Free at last."
After Dr. King's shocking assassination, the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC) needed a new president. Ralph David
Abernathy (1926-1990) - one of the founding members of the SCLC -
became the new leader. Abernathy's term as president lasted from
In 1969, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for
Nonviolent Change was opened in Atlanta by Coretta Scott King.
Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated on the third
Monday of each January. This national holiday was first celebrated
on January 20, 1968, and was signed into legislation by President
Ronald Regan on November 2, 1983.
Dr. King's memory continues to live on even to this day.
Numerous hospitals, schools, libraries, bridges, forests, parks,
postage stamps, etc. bear his name, image, and/or work. Examples
include the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Washington,
D.C., the Dr. Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri, and
the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Los Angeles, California.
All of these memorials, monuments, and tributes help to keep his
To see pictures, hear soundclips, and learn more about Dr. King
and the Civil Rights Movement, visit The Seattle Times
[ http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/mlk ].