Biography of Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

Church Pastor American Baptist and prominent leader of the defence of civil rights in the United States of America. He was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta (Georgia), and died on April 4, 1968, in Memphis (Tennessee), murdered by the former prisoner and criminal professional James Earl Ray when he was in the first floor of the Lorraine motel balcony. As a champion of racial integration, Martin struggled to steer the emancipation of his brothers race through peaceful procedures and the philosophy of non-violence, so in 1964 awarded Jawaharlal Nehru. He was author of the book Stride toward freedom, in 1958 (the March towards freedom), and Why we canĀ“t wait?, in 1964 (do we have to wait?).

Martin Luther King.

Formation and early days

Belonging to a humble family, his father was pastor Baptist Church Ebenezer of Atlanta and his Professor mother. The father of Martin taught you from very small concern for racial segregation in the country, witness that very soon the young man would pick up participating fully in many of the activities that the Church was to achieve equality of races.

Martin Luther King in one of his speeches.

At the age of six, Martin entered a public school in order to Institute private black of Washington where, as well as discover and suffer the harsh reality of racism in his own flesh, pursued his studies in high school. At the same time, to earn a living, Martin was devoted to sell newspapers, drinks and all kinds of items with which to pay their studies and slightly alleviate the meager family economy. At the age of fifteen he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, only Center of higher education for blacks, whose institution discovered his true vocation of theological. Two years later, Martin was ordained Minister bautista with only seventeen years old. Once consecrated and appointed Assistant to the Church from his father, he spent the following two summers working as a railway worker and a factory in order to come into contact with the social problems of the black community. Martin matured intellectually thanks to read authors of such importance and relevance as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke, among many others, which helped him go shaping his thinking about men than social issues then it would occupy in shape during their arduous struggle against segregation and marginalization that were subject to he and his brothers of race. But, without a doubt, the influence of the most powerful in his work as leader of the human rights movement won her teachings expressed in several books by Mahatma Gandhi, who was highly fascinated by his ideas of the satyagraha (force of truth) and the ahimsa (non-violence), in which Martin supported to sustain their humanitarian crusade.

In the fall of 1948, Martin graduated from Crozer Theological Lenguary of Pennsylvania to study theology, and in 1951, after obtaining his degree, entered Boston University, where earned a doctorate in theology. In February of the year 1952 he met a promising concert pianist, Loretta Scott, with whom he married on June 18, 1953. Fruit of that union were: Yolanda Denisse, in 1955; Martin Luther III, in 1957; Dexter, in 1961; and Bernice Albertine, in 1963.

The first battle: the riots of Montgomery

In January 1954, Martin accepted the position of pastor at the Baptist Church of Dexter Avenue in Montgomery (Alabama), famous for being one of the cities hardest on racial segregation, with a population of 50,000 blacks and 80,000 whites. There Martin befriended who was to become his best friend and most loyal follower and collaborator in the fight against segregation, the also pastor Ralph Abernathy.

At the end of August 1955, a woman of color of 42 years, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the city bus to a white who claimed it, while that same year the Supreme Court banned segregated public education and discriminatory social laws for the people of color. Rosa Park reported the abuse to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the progress of the people of Color), whose leaders, among them the own Martin, agreed to the total boycott to all local buses in the city, a measure which lasted for 382 days. Martin Luther was elected unopposed President of the black movement Montgomery Improvement Association, the agency responsible for coordinating the protest against segregation in the city, circumstance that you allowed him to practice their beliefs and theories of fighting learned from its multiple readings. The motto chosen by Martin to protest not "strike" or "boycott", but the word Gandhian of "non-cooperation". The result of the protest was a resounding success: Rosa Parks came out of prison while the Supreme Court of the country gave order to prohibit racial segregation in all kinds of public transport at the national level.

The leadership of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement

Events of Montgomery led Martin to the assumption of the leadership of the black minority in Georgia and later around the country, making it very soon began to suffer the wrath of the white radical and racist sectors. On January 30, 1956 a bomb exploded at his house in Montgomery that fortunately did not result in any death. The reaction of anger on hand to learn of what has happened-black community would have caused a real blood bath if not for the skill of Martin to assert his theory of non-violence and no-colaboracion.

In January 1957, Martin convened a meeting of all the black leaders of the South of the country in the Church of Ebenezer, which founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the S.C.L.C. (Conference of Christian leaders of the South). The organization chose as President to Martin, who began a frenzied campaign of conferences and propaganda acts of the Organization throughout the South, which redefined the guidelines that follow the movement of emancipation of the blacks in the future. In that same year Martin delivered more than 200 speeches in different sites. With Martin as President, the S.C.L.C. undertook all kinds of actions to the attention of the Federal Government on the serious problem of segregation, among which highlights the impressive March that led over Washington on May 17, 1957, attended by thousands of whites and 30,000 blacks.

Thanks to the constant support of his wife, Martin went ahead with its line of cause and put pressure on President Eisenhower to this issued anti-racist laws. In September 1958, Martin was arrested in Montgomery accused of disturbing the peace, but the immediate reaction from the black community determined that this left the same day of his arrest. The authorities did not want clashes or create a pantheon of martyrs of the antisegregacionista cause.

On September 19, 1958, Martin suffered another attack when he was signing copies of his book March toward freedom in stores Blumstein of Harlem (New York). The Act was perpetrated by Izola Curry, a woman of color who suffered an acute schizophrenia, as shown later. Its action did not respond to any set plan, but was about to kill Martin when he clasped her chest a stylet to open letters. Wound affected vein aorta, but Martin didn't allow that no one will touch, so it remained still until they reached the medical assistance, decision that undoubtedly saved his life.

The consolidation of the leadership

In March 1959, Martin fulfilled the desire of his life waging with his wife a trip to several cities in the India following the footprint and the spirit of Gandhi. In this long journey came to the conclusion that the method of struggle of the master was perfectly applicable in the United States of America, but with a substantial modification: renounce progress in a country such as the United States was virtually impossible, not to say absurd.

On his return, Martin decided to abandon his position as pastor in Montgomery for Abernathy Council since given his total dedication to the fight against the segregacionismo had left in the background its obligations as pastor. Appointed coadjutor of his father at Ebenezer Church, Martin went on to have much more free time to carry out her dream and goal: take the fight for civil rights to all corners of the country.

The first obstacle which had to solve was the opposition to their peaceful methods by other black much more radical groups, such as the Black Power or the Black Muslims of Malcolm X, clash which ended in favour of the theses of martin for its prestige and success achieved to date.

In October 1960, Martin returned to being arrested in Atlanta during one of the multiple sittings the S.C.L.C. promoted throughout the country. Days after the arrest the Senator and democratic candidate for the Presidency, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, intervened on his behalf publicly supporting his fight, after which the release occurred. At the end of that same month, Kennedy won the victory by a narrow margin of votes to the Republican candidate Richard Nixon, promised in the last days of his campaign to fight for the rights of all our citizens, whites, blacks, Hispanics, etc., and against all forms of marginalization.

With Kennedy in the White House, the civil rights movement went through channels much more positive in their results, with more measures which, however, could not help but periodic outbreaks of violence by both parties. In October 1962, Martin met with the President to press him on his decision to send the promised draft legislation that finally stop with the legal vacuum that existed in a multitude of issues that caused social and political inequalities between whites and blacks to Congress. The meeting took effect, since June 19, 1963 the Kennedy Government sent to the House of representatives the first serious law project in this area.

The campaign in Birmingham and the March of Washington

The year 1963 was crucial to the civil rights movement. First event of relief was the Birmingham (Alabama) campaign, in which, after several days of continuous demonstrations and protests, all violently suppressed by local police and his boss, the infamous Commissioner Eugene Connor (came to dogs by the police against a demonstration of black teenagers), and in which the own Martin was arrestedHe was a broad agreement that it was abolished racial segregation in the State of Alabama. The consequence of these events was that the President was more willing to a new package of laws against racism are discussed in the Congress.

The culmination of the struggle led by Martin Luther King occurred on August 28 of the same year, with the March on Washington that brought together more than 250,000 people, 60,000 of whom were white. The demonstration ended before the monument to Abraham Lincoln, where Martin emerged as the moral leader of the nation and the most emotional speech from their lips, which began saying... "I have a dream"... (I had a dream).

Few months after his apotheosis in Washington, the assassination of Kennedy, who died in the deep South without being passed the Civil Rights Act, which expanded considerably already provisions on the matter, just as most arreciaban new outbreaks of violence by the most reactionary white community, provided a major blow to the movement and to own Martinwho felt depressed and desolate. While the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, picked up the baton left by Kennedy immediately approving law and several other resolutions, Martin was very reserved and quite sceptical at the new prospect that opened to the movement and his own person. By it, so that the situation would improve not only had to change laws, but also the consciences of all men, purpose entirely impossible point.

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Upon returning to the United States, in October 1964, after a long tour of several countries in Europe in which he met Willy Brandt and Pope Paul VI, among others, Martin had to keep affected rest of extreme exhaustion, time in which learned of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded by the Swedish Academy. The remuneration of the award ($54.123) allocated it entirely to the financing of activities by the civil rights of the S.C.L.C.

After the recognition of equal rights, Martin set out to get the effective right to vote from blacks, which met with President Johnson on February 9, 1965. In August of the same year, the President signed a law that nullified all the legal obstacles invented by racists to disrupt the registration of blacks in voter lists. Martin did not comply with the proceeds, they followed more alert if possible so that laws will be held without any obstacle.

Appeared radical black groups that rejected the tactics of Martin and that encouraged serious riots in major cities around the nation, the progressive deterioration of the relations between the administration of Johnson and Martin on the thorny issue of the Viet Nam (Martin made public his rejection to the US intervention in the Asian zone), and the constant harassment he was subjected by powerful FBI Edgar Hooverthey have resulted in Martin rethinking not only its tactics of protest, but also targets those who fight. Her traditional fight against racial segregation, Martin added concern for classes more marginalized and destitute in the country, regardless of race. Their intentions were not others that fail to be the exclusive leader of the black community to champion the rights of the poor in general, of the disenfranchised.

The murder

On April 3, 1968, prior to beginning the "March of the poor", as Martin had christened it, this gave a prophetic speech in Memphis, where he claimed that... "come difficult days... but not concerned about me, because I have come to the top of the mountain"... The next day, Martin fell mortally wounded after being hit by a bullet from the rifle Remington fired by the Hitman James Ray. The eyewitnesses of such horrendous crime were his collaborator and friend Abernathy, and the young Baptist pastor Jesse Jackson. Abernathy took over from the black movement undertaken by Martin. His wife Loretta King nor never abandoned the task begun by her husband.

Martin Luther King was buried in the cemetery of Atlanta. On the headstone of his grave, which was declared a national historical place Congress, pray the words that he uttered before the monument of Lincoln: "free at last, free at last. Thank you, Almighty God, I am free at last". Five days later, President Johnson ordered a day of national mourning (the first by an African-American) in his honor. Luther King funeral attended by 300,000 people, including Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In addition, the third Monday of January was national holiday in commemoration of the civil rights of blacks that he fought with his own life.

Two months after the death of Martin Luther King was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom with Canadian passport fake, an escaped prisoner named James Earl Ray. Ray was extradited to Tennessee and charged with the death of Martin Luther King. On March 10, 1969, Ray acknowledged committing the murder on March 10, 1969, though he recanted three days later. Following the advice of his lawyer, he pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

On 10 June 1977, shortly after having declared before a Committee of the Congress on crime in which insisted on his innocence, was avoided with other convicted six of Brushy Mountain, in Tennessee prison. Three days later he was arrested and returned to prison.

In 1997, the son of Martin Luther King, Dexter Scott King, met with Ray, and publicly supported the efforts of this to get a new trial. In 1999, a year after the death of Ray, the widow of Martin Luther, Coretta Scott King, and the rest of the King family, won a civil suit against Loyd Jowers (owner of a restaurant not far from the Motel) and "other conspirators". In December 1993, Jowers had revealed the details of a conspiracy involving the mafia and the Government to assassinate Martin Luther on Prime Time Live from ABC News. Jowers said in the trial that had received $100,000 to arrange the assassination of Martin Luther King. The jury, composed of six blacks and six white, you he pleaded guilty and said that "Federal agents had been involved" in the plot. At the end of the process, the King family said that Ray had had nothing to do with the murder.

In 2000, the United States Department of Justice gave ended the investigation into the revelations of Jowers, in the absence of evidence that demonstrate the conspiracy. The final report recommended that no new research as that will not submit new reliable evidence there is.

In conclusion, we can say that the true significance of the figure and work of Martin Luther King does not lie only in important and undeniable successes which got to eradicate segregation of blacks in his country and to alleviate the situation of the disadvantaged classes in general, but that had the power to become a model to be followed around the worldthat is, all races, becoming one of the most important icons of this century. That, certainly, is only within reach of a few elected.


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VIVES, Pedro A. The Kennedy era: the society of opulence. Madrid: Group 16, 1998.

PALMOWSKI, Jan. Universal history of the 20th century. Madrid: Editorial Complutense, 1998.