Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr.: Who was he? Why is there a National Holiday for the Man? ( PART I )

Martin Luther King Jr.  ( PART I )

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Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr., January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. With the SCLC, King led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the 1963 nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama. King also helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the following year he and SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In the final years of his life, King expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War, alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam".
In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington State was also renamed for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

Early life and education

King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. (1899–1984) and Alberta Williams King (1904–1974).[1] King's legal name at birth was Michael King,[2] and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed his and his son's names following a 1934 trip to Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. It was during this time he chose to be called Martin Luther King in honor of the German reformer Martin Luther.[3][unreliable source?][4] King had Irish ancestry through his paternal great-grandfather, as well as African ancestry.[5][6]
King was a middle child, between an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.[7] King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.[8] King liked singing and music. His mother was an accomplished organist and choir leader, and she took him to various churches to sing. He received attention for singing "I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus." King later became a member of the junior choir in his church.[9]
King said that his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen; a neighbor reported hearing the elder King telling his son "he would make something of him even if he had to beat him to death." King saw his father's proud and fearless protests against segregation, such as King Sr. refusing to listen to a traffic policeman after being referred to as "boy," or stalking out of a store with his son when being told by a shoe clerk that they would have to "move to the rear" of the store to be served.[10]
When King was a child, he befriended a white boy whose father owned a business near his family's home. When the boys were six, they started school: King had to attend a school for African Americans and the other boy went to one for whites (public schools were among the facilities segregated by state law). King lost his friend because the child's father no longer wanted the boys to play together.[11]
King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. In his adolescent years, he initially felt resentment against whites due to the "racial humiliation" that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South.[12] At the age of 12, shortly after his maternal grandmother died, King blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window, but survived.[13]
King was skeptical of many of Christianity's claims. At the age of 13, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school.[14] From this point, he stated, "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly".[15][14] However, he later concluded that the Bible has "many profound truths which one cannot escape" and decided to enter the seminary.[14]
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. He became known for his public speaking ability and was part of the school's debate team.[16] King became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942 when he was 13.[17] During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin, Georgia. Returning home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. King initially refused, but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not submit. King said that during this incident, he was "the angriest I have ever been in my life".[16] A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades of high school.[18]
During King's junior year in high school, Morehouse College, a respected historically black college, announced that it would accept any high school juniors who could pass its entrance exam. At that time, many students had abandoned further studies to enlist in World War II. Due to this, Morehouse was eager to fill its classrooms. At the age of 15, King passed the exam and entered Morehouse.[16] The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry. He had concluded that the church offered the most assuring way to answer "an inner urge to serve humanity". King's "inner urge" had begun developing, and he made peace with the Baptist Church, as he believed he would be a "rational" minister with sermons that were "a respectful force for ideas, even social protest."[19]
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. in sociology and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951.[20][21] King's father fully supported his decision to continue his education.
While attending Crozer, King was joined by Walter McCall, a former classmate at Morehouse.[22] At Crozer, King was elected president of the student body.[23] The African-American students of Crozer for the most part conducted their social activity on Edwards Street. King became fond of the street because a classmate had an aunt who prepared collard greens for them, which they both relished.[24]
King once reproved another student for keeping beer in his room, saying they had shared responsibility as African Americans to bear "the burdens of the Negro race." For a time, he was interested in Walter Rauschenbusch's "social gospel".[23] In his third year at Morehouse, King became romantically involved with the white daughter of an immigrant German woman who worked as a cook in the cafeteria. The daughter had been involved with a professor prior to her relationship with King. King planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites, potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South. King tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother's pain over the marriage and broke the relationship off six months later. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the women he left; one friend was quoted as saying, "He never recovered."[23]
King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama; he was 24 and she was 26.[25] They became the parents of four children: Yolanda King (b. 1955), Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), Dexter Scott King (b. 1961), and Bernice King (b. 1963).[26] During their marriage, King limited Coretta's role in the Civil Rights Movement, expecting her to be a housewife and mother.[27]
At age 25 in 1954, King was called as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.[28]

Doctoral studies

King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.[29] While pursuing doctoral studies, King worked as an assistant minister at Boston's historic Twelfth Baptist Church with Rev. William Hunter Hester. Hester was an old friend of King's father, and was an important influence on King.[30]
Decades later, an academic inquiry in October 1991 concluded that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly. However, "[d]espite its finding, the committee said that 'no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King's doctoral degree,' an action that the panel said would serve no purpose."[29][31][32] The committee also found that the dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." A letter is now attached to the copy of King's dissertation held in the university library, noting that numerous passages were included without the appropriate quotations and citations of sources.[33]

Montgomery bus boycott, 1955

In March 1955, Claudette Colvin, a black fifteen-year-old pregnant schoolgirl in Montgomery, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in compliance with Jim Crow laws, which were local regulations in the Southern United States that enforced racial segregation. King was on the committee from the Birmingham African-American community that looked into the case; because Colvin was pregnant and unmarried, E. D. Nixon and Clifford Durr decided to wait for a better case to pursue.[34]
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus.[35] The Montgomery bus boycott, urged and planned by Nixon and led by King, soon followed.[36] The boycott lasted for 385 days,[37] and the situation became so tense that King's house was bombed.[38] King was arrested during this campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.[39][40] King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.[41]

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. One of the group's inspirations was the crusades of evangelist Billy Graham, who befriended King after he attended a Graham crusade in New York City in 1957.[42] King led the SCLC until his death.[43] The SCLC's 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was the first time King addressed a national audience.[44] Other civil rights leaders involved in the SCLC with King included: James Bevel, Allen Johnson, Curtis W. Harris, Walter E. Fauntroy, C. T. Vivian, Andrew Young, The Freedom Singers, Charles Evers, Cleveland Robinson, Randolph Blackwell, Annie Bell Robinson Devine, Charles Kenzie Steele, Alfred Daniel Williams King, Benjamin Hooks, Aaron Henry and Bayard Rustin.[45]
On September 20, 1958, while signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in Blumstein's department store in Harlem,[46] King narrowly escaped death when Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists, stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. After emergency surgery by Aubre de Lambert Maynard, Emil Naclerio and John W. V. Cordice, King was hospitalized for several weeks, while Curry was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.[47][48] In 1959, he published a short book called The Measure of A Man, which contained his sermons "What is Man?" and "The Dimensions of a Complete Life". The sermons argued for man's need for God's love and criticized the racial injustices of Western civilization.[49]
Harry Wachtel—who joined King's legal advisor Clarence B. Jones in defending four ministers of the SCLC in a libel suit over a newspaper advertisement (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan)—founded a tax-exempt fund to cover the expenses of the suit and to assist the nonviolent civil rights movement through a more effective means of fundraising. This organization was named the "Gandhi Society for Human Rights". King served as honorary president for the group. Displeased with the pace of President Kennedy's addressing the issue of segregation, King and the Gandhi Society produced a document in 1962 calling on the President to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and use an Executive Order to deliver a blow for Civil Rights as a kind of Second Emancipation Proclamation - Kennedy did not execute the order.[50]

The FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began tapping King's telephone in the fall of 1963.[51] Concerned that allegations of communists in the SCLC, if made public, would derail the administration's civil rights initiatives, Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations, and later felt compelled to issue the written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other SCLC leaders.[52] J. Edgar Hoover feared Communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of the preeminent leadership position.[53]
King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. 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 convinced the majority of Americans that the Civil Rights Movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.[54][55]
King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights.[40] Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.[56][57]
King and the SCLC put into practice many of the principles of the Christian Left and applied the tactics of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out. There were often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent.[58]
Throughout his participation in the civil rights movement, King was criticized by many groups. This included opposition by more militant blacks such as Nation of Islam member Malcolm X.[59] Stokely Carmichael was a separatist and disagreed with King's plea for racial integration because he considered it an insult to a uniquely African-American culture.[60] Omali Yeshitela urged Africans to remember the history of violent European colonization and how power was not secured by Europeans through integration, but by violence and force.[61]

Albany Movement

The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961. In December, King and the SCLC became involved. The movement mobilized thousands of citizens for a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city and attracted nationwide attention. When King first visited on December 15, 1961, he "had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel."[62] The following day he was swept up in a mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators, and he declined bail until the city made concessions. According to King, "that agreement was dishonored and violated by the city" after he left town.[62]
King returned in July 1962, and was sentenced to forty-five days in jail or a $178 fine. He chose jail. Three days into his sentence, Police Chief Laurie Pritchett discreetly arranged for King's fine to be paid and ordered his release. "We had witnessed persons being kicked off lunch counter stools ... ejected from churches ... and thrown into jail ... But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail."[63] It was later acknowledged by the King Center that Billy Graham was the one who bailed King out of jail during this time.[64]
After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a "Day of Penance" to promote nonviolence and maintain the moral high ground. Divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts.[65] Though the Albany effort proved a key lesson in tactics for King and the national civil rights movement,[66] the national media was highly critical of King's role in the defeat, and the SCLC's lack of results contributed to a growing gulf between the organization and the more radical SNCC. After Albany, King sought to choose engagements for the SCLC in which he could control the circumstances, rather than entering into pre-existing situations.[67]

Birmingham campaign

In April 1963, the SCLC began a campaign against racial segregation and economic injustice in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign used nonviolent but intentionally confrontational tactics, developed in part by Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. Black people in Birmingham, organizing with the SCLC, occupied public spaces with marches and sit-ins, openly violating laws that they considered unjust.
King's intent was to provoke mass arrests and "create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation".[68] However, the campaign's early volunteers did not succeed in shutting down the city, or in drawing media attention to the police's actions. Over the concerns of an uncertain King, SCLC strategist James Bevel changed the course of the campaign by recruiting children and young adults to join in the demonstrations.[69] Newsweek called this strategy a Children's Crusade.[70][71]
During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs against protesters, including children. Footage of the police response was broadcast on national television news and dominated the nation's attention, shocking many white Americans and consolidating black Americans behind the movement.[72] Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. But the campaign was a success: Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs came down, and public places became more open to blacks. King's reputation improved immensely.[70]
King was arrested and jailed early in the campaign—his 13th arrest[73] out of 29.[74] From his cell, he composed the now-famous Letter from Birmingham Jail which responds to calls on the movement to pursue legal channels for social change. King argues that the crisis of racism is too urgent, and the current system too entrenched: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."[75] He points out that the Boston Tea Party, a celebrated act of rebellion in the American colonies, was illegal civil disobedience, and that, conversely, "everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal'".[75] King also expresses his frustration with white moderates and clergymen too timid to oppose an unjust system:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistic-ally believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season".[75]

St. Augustine, Florida

In March 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with Robert Hayling's then-controversial movement in St. Augustine, Florida. Hayling's group had been affiliated with the NAACP but was forced out of the organization for advocating armed self-defense alongside nonviolent tactics. Ironically, the pacifist SCLC accepted them.[76] King and the SCLC worked to bring white Northern activists to St. Augustine, including a delegation of rabbis and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, all of whom were arrested.[77][78] During June, the movement marched nightly through the city, "often facing counter demonstrations by the Klan, and provoking violence that garnered national media attention." Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and jailed. During the course of this movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.[79]

Selma, Alabama

In December 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, where the SNCC had been working on voter registration for several months.[80] A local judge issued an injunction that barred any gathering of 3 or more people affiliated with the SNCC, SCLC, DCVL, or any of 41 named civil rights leaders. This injunction temporarily halted civil rights activity until King defied it by speaking at Brown Chapel on January 2, 1965.[81]

New York City

On February 6, 1964, King delivered the inaugural speech of a lecture series initiated at the New School called "The American Race Crisis". No audio record of his speech has been found, but in August 2013, almost 50 years later, the school discovered an audiotape with 15 minutes of a question-and-answer session that followed King's address. In these remarks, King referred to a conversation he had recently had with Jawaharlal Nehru in which he compared the sad condition of many African Americans to that of India's untouchables.[82]

March on Washington, 1963

King, representing the SCLC, was among the leaders of the "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on August 28, 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were Roy Wilkins from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young, National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality.[83]
The primary logistical and strategic organizer was King's colleague Bayard Rustin.[84] For King, this role was another which courted controversy, since he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of United States President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march.[85][86] Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation. However, the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.[87] With the march going forward, the Kennedys decided it was important to work to ensure its success. President Kennedy was concerned the turnout would be less than 100,000. Therefore, he enlisted the aid of additional church leaders and the UAW union to help mobilize demonstrators for the cause.

The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern U.S. and an opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital. Organizers intended to denounce the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone.[89] As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington", and the Nation of Islam forbade its members from attending the march.
The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public schools; 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 Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee.[91][92][93] Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success.[94] More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington, D.C.'s history.[94]
King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as "I Have a Dream". In the speech's most famous passage—in which he departed from his prepared text, possibly at the prompting of Mahalia Jackson, who shouted behind him, "Tell them about the dream!"[95][96]—King said:[97]
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
"I Have a Dream" came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.[98] The March, and especially King's speech, helped put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[99][100]
The original typewritten copy of the speech, including King's handwritten notes on it, was discovered in 1984 to be in the hands of George Raveling, the first African-American basketball coach of the University of Iowa. In 1963, Raveling, then 26, was standing near the podium, and immediately after the oration, impulsively asked King if he could have his copy of the speech. He got it.

( END OF PART I )



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