Martin Luther King Jr. biography

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Quick Facts

  • NAME: Martin Luther King Jr.
  • OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Minister
  • BIRTH DATE: January 15, 1929
  • DEATH DATE: April 04, 1968
  • Did You Know?: Martin Luther King Jr. changed his name from Michael to Martin after his father adopted the name Martin in honor of the Protestant leader Martin Luther.
  • EDUCATION: Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, Boston University
  • PLACE OF BIRTH: Atlanta, Georgia
  • PLACE OF DEATH: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Full Name: Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Originally: Michael King Jr.
  • AKA: MLK Jr.
  • AKA: Martin Luther King
  • AKA: MLK

Best Known For

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist, who led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968.

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Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King, both a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist, had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Among many efforts, King headed the SCLC. Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation,


"But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"I have a dream that my four 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."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"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."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"A man who won't die for something is not fit to live."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

– Martin Luther King Jr.

as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. King was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream."

Early Years

Born as Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was the middle child of Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. The King and Williams families were rooted in rural Georgia. Martin Jr.'s grandfather, A.D. Williams, was a rural minister for years and then moved to Atlanta in 1893. He took over the small, struggling Ebenezer Baptist church with around 13 members and made it into a forceful congregation. He married Jennie Celeste Parks and they had one child that survived, Alberta. Michael King Sr. came from a sharecropper family in a poor farming community. He married Alberta in 1926 after an eight-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to A.D. Williams home in Atlanta.

Michael King Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church upon the death of his father-in-law in 1931. He too became a successful minister, and adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. in honor of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. In due time, Michael Jr. would follow his father's lead and adopt the name himself.

Young Martin had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. The King children grew up in a secure and loving environment. Martin Sr. was more the disciplinarian, while his wife's gentleness easily balanced out the father's more strict hand. Though they undoubtedly tried, Martin Jr.’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism. Martin Luther King Sr. fought against racial prejudice, not just because his race suffered, but because he considered racism and segregation to be an affront to God's will. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.

Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr. entered public school at age 5. In May, 1936 he was baptized, but the event made little impression on him. In May, 1941, Martin was 12 years old when is grandmother, Jennie, died of a heart attack. The event was traumatic for Martin, more so because he was out watching a parade against his parents' wishes when she died. Distraught at the news, young Martin jumped from a second story window at the family home, allegedly attempting suicide.

King attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he was said to be a precocious student.


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