Martin L. King Jr.

From Ohio History Central
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Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a prominent civil rights activist during the 1950s and 1960s.

King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948, and he then enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary. Upon receiving his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951, King then pursued his doctorate degree from Boston University, attaining this degree in 1955.

In 1954, before receiving his doctorate degree, King accepted a position as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. From this position, King would emerge as one of the most prominent African-American spokespersons of the twentieth-century. In 1955, he helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, hoping to end segregated buses in this city. Emerging from this incident as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, King joined with other ministers in forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This organization, established in 1957, sought to unite churches across the South to protest racial segregation and the lack of other rights for African Americans. King dominated this organization for the remainder of his life. He advocated non-violent protest, believing that people of all races would look favorably upon a movement that encouraged peace and equality, rather than a group that met injustice with violence. King's peaceful message attracted thousands of supporters-people of all races-who agreed that segregation of and the lack of rights for African Americans could not continue.

To attain more opportunities for African Americans, King organized protest rallies, boycotts, sit-ins, and marches. He hoped that thousands of people asking peacefully and respectfully for equal rights and opportunities for blacks with whites would rally support to the Civil Rights Movement. The most famous event organized by King was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which occurred on August 28, 1963, in Washington, DC. It was at this protest that King delivered his most famous speech-"I have a Dream." Between 200,000 and 500,000 people of all races marched through the streets of Washington, demanding peacefully government support to end segregation and other forms of racial injustice. Due to the success of this march, many racists, especially those residing in the South, responded with violence to prevent the continued growth and successes of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement accomplished much in 1964 and 1965, with the federal government's passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. These two federal laws outlawed segregation, guaranteed African Americans equal protection under the law, and truly secured black men and women the right to vote. However, the Civil Rights Movement was not over. King continued to urge peaceful demonstrations to protest the lack of equal pay for equal work for African Americans with whites. He also sought to improve educational opportunities for people of all races. The Civil Rights Movement, however, began to change. Some African Americans, especially younger ones, began to reject King's calls for non-violent protests. These people wanted changes to occur much more quickly. They demanded action now, rather than the slower changes that usually came from peaceful demonstrations. By 1965, the Civil Rights Movement had divided between the more peaceful followers of King and generally younger and more violent African Americans.

Despite this split within the Civil Rights Movement, King continued to fight for the rights of African Americans. Unfortunately for King, he would not live to see true equality between blacks and whites. On April 4, 1968, an assassin killed King in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots, including one in Avondale, Ohio, erupted across the United States in protest of King's death. Now lacking a strong and unifying leader, the Civil Rights Movement split further and became much more disorganized.

King dramatically changed the United States, including Ohio. The Civil Rights Movement that he helped organize caused many Ohioans to demand equal rights for blacks with whites in the state. Many white and black Ohioans played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement, joining organizations like the Congress on Racial Equality. The state government created the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to investigate inequality between the races. Despite these non-violent groups and actions of the Ohio government, not all Ohioans adopted King's peaceful form of resistance. Race riots erupted in Ohio, especially in Cleveland in 1966 and 1968, as younger African Americans especially protested racial inequality. Nevertheless, King helped advance the cause of racial equality across the United States, including in Ohio.

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