the biography of martin luther king junior

The New Definitive Biography of Martin Luther King Jr.

“King: A Life,” by Jonathan Eig, is the first comprehensive account of the civil rights icon in decades.

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By Dwight Garner

  • Published May 8, 2023 Updated May 28, 2023

KING: A Life , by Jonathan Eig

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Growing up, he was called Little Mike, after his father, the Baptist minister Michael King. Later he sometimes went by M.L. Only in college did he drop his first name and began to introduce himself as Martin Luther King Jr. This was after his father visited Germany and, inspired by accounts of the reform-minded 16th-century friar Martin Luther, adopted his name.

King Jr. was born in 1929. Were he alive he would be 94, the same age as Noam Chomsky. The prosperous King family lived on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. One writer, quoted by Jonathan Eig in his supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling and compulsively readable new biography, “King: A Life,” called it “the richest Negro street in the world.”

Eig’s is the first comprehensive biography of King in three decades. It draws on a landslide of recently released White House telephone transcripts, F.B.I. documents, letters, oral histories and other material, and it supplants David J. Garrow’s 1986 biography “Bearing the Cross” as the definitive life of King, as Garrow himself deposed recently in The Spectator . It also updates the material in Taylor Branch’s magisterial trilogy about America during the King years.

King and his two siblings had the trappings of middle-class life in Atlanta: bicycles, a dog, allowances. But they were sickly aware of the racism that made white people shun them, that kept them out of most of the city’s parks and swimming pools, among other degradations.

Their father expected a lot from his children. He had a temper. He was a stern disciplinarian who spanked with a belt. Their mother was a calmer, sweeter, more stable presence. King would inherit qualities from both.

One of the stranger moments in King’s childhood, and thus in American history, occurred on Dec. 15, 1939. That was the night Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and other Hollywood stars converged on Atlanta for the premiere of “Gone With the Wind,” the highly anticipated film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 novel.

“Gone With the Wind” was already controversial in the Black community for its placid and romantic depiction of slavery. To the dismay of some of his peers, King’s father allowed his church’s choir to perform at the premiere. It was only a movie, he thought, and not an entirely inaccurate one. Choir members wore slave costumes, their heads wrapped with cloth. “Martin Luther King Jr., dressed as a young slave, sat in the choir’s first row, singing along,” Eig writes.

King was a sensitive child. When things upset him, he twice tried to commit suicide, if halfheartedly, by leaping out of a second-story window of his house. (Both times, he wasn’t seriously hurt.) He was bright and skipped several grades in school. He thought he might be a doctor or a lawyer; the high emotion in church embarrassed him.

When he arrived in 1944 at nearby Morehouse College, one of the most distinguished all-Black, all-male colleges in America, he was 15 and short for his age. He picked up the nickname Runt. He majored in sociology. He read Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” and it was a vital early influence. He began to think about life as a minister, and he practiced his sermons in front of a mirror.

He was small, but he was a natty dresser and possessed a trim mustache and a dazzling smile. Women were already throwing themselves at him, and they would never stop doing so.

He attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he fell in love with and nearly married a white woman, but that would have ended any hope of becoming a minister in the South. Eig, who has also written artful biographies of Muhammad Ali and Lou Gehrig, describes how several young women attended King’s graduation from Crozer and how — as if in a scene from a Feydeau farce — each expected to be introduced to his parents as his fiancée.

The book cover of “King: A Life,” by Jonathan Eig, shows a close-up black-and-white photograph of Martin Luther King Jr.

King then pursued a doctorate at Boston University. (He nearly went to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland instead, a notion that is mind-bending to contemplate.) He was said to be the most eligible young Black man in the city.

In Boston he fell in love with Coretta Scott, he said, over the course of a single telephone call. She had attended Antioch College in Ohio and was studying voice at the New England Conservatory; she hoped to become a concert singer. Their love story is beautifully related. They were married in Alabama, at the Scott family’s home near Marion. They spent the first night of their marriage in the guest bedroom of a funeral parlor, because no local hotel would accommodate them.

The Kings moved to Montgomery, Ala., in 1954, when he took over as pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. A year later, a seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white passengers on a Montgomery bus. Thus began the Montgomery bus boycott, an action that established the city as a crucible of the civil rights movement. The young pastor was about to rise to a great occasion, and to step into history.

“As I watched them,” he wrote about the men and women who participated in the long and difficult boycott, “I knew that there is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.”

By this point in “King: A Life,” Eig has established his voice. It’s a clean, clear, journalistic voice, one that employs facts the way Saul Bellow said they should be employed, each a wire that sends a current. He does not dispense two-dollar words; he keeps digressions tidy and to a minimum; he jettisons weight, on occasion, for speed. He appears to be so in control of his material that it is difficult to second-guess him.

By the time we’ve reached Montgomery, King’s reputation has been flyspecked. Eig flies low over his penchant for plagiarism, in academic papers and elsewhere. (King was a synthesizer of ideas, not an original scholar.) His womanizing only got worse over the years. This is a very human, and quite humane, portrait.

Many readers will be familiar with what follows: the long fight in Montgomery, in which the world came to realize that this wasn’t merely about bus seats, and it wasn’t merely Montgomery’s problem. Later, the whole world was watching as Bull Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety, sicced police dogs on peaceful protesters. In prison, King would compose what is now known as “Letter From Birmingham Jail” on napkins, toilet paper and in the margins of newspapers. Later came the 1963 March on Washington and King’s partly improvised “I Have a Dream” speech.

During these years, King was imprisoned on 29 separate occasions. He never got used to it. He had shotguns fired into his family’s house. Bombs were found on his porch. Crosses were burned on his lawn. He was punched in the face more than once. In 1958, in Harlem, he was stabbed in the chest with a seven-inch letter opener. He was told that had he even sneezed before doctors could remove it, he might have died.

Eig is adept at weaving in other characters, and other voices. He makes it plain that King was not acting in a vacuum, and he traces the work of organizations like the N.A.A.C.P., CORE and SNCC, and of men like Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis, Julian Bond and Ralph Abernathy. He shows how King was too progressive for some, and vastly too conservative for others, Malcolm X central among them.

As this book moves into its final third, you sense the author echolocating between two other major biographies, Robert Caro’s multivolume life of Lyndon Johnson and Beverly Gage’s powerful recent biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director.

King’s relationships with John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were complicated; his relationship with Johnson was even more so. King and Johnson were driven apart when King began to speak out against the Vietnam War, which Johnson considered a betrayal.

The details about Hoover’s relentless pursuit of King, via wiretaps and other methods, are repulsive. American law enforcement was more interested in tarring King with whatever they could dig up than in protecting him. Hoover tried to paint him as a communist; he wasn’t one.

King was under constant surveillance. Hoover’s F.B.I. agents bugged his hotel rooms and reported that he was having sex with many women, in many cities; ‌they tried to drive him to suicide by threatening to release the tapes. King, in one bureau report, is said to have “participated in a sex orgy.” There is also an allegation, about which Eig is dubious, that King looked on during a rape. Complete F.B.I. recordings and transcripts are scheduled to be released in 2027.

Eig catches King in private moments. He had health issues; the stresses of his life aged him prematurely. He rarely got enough sleep, but he didn’t seem to need it. Writing about his demeanor in general, the writer Louis Lomax called King the “foremost interpreter of the Negro’s tiredness.”

King loved good Southern food and ate like a country boy. When the meal was especially delicious, he liked to eat with his hands. He argued, laughing, that utensils only got in the way.

Once, when his daughter skinned her knee by a swimming pool, he took a piece of fried chicken and jokingly pretended to apply it to the wound. “Let’s put some fried chicken on that,” he said. “Yes, a little piece of chicken, that’s always the best thing for a cut.”

Eig has read everything, from W.E.B. Du Bois through Norman Mailer and Murray Kempton and Caro and Gage. He argues that we have sometimes mistaken King’s nonviolence for passivity. He doesn’t put King on the couch, but he considers the lifelong guilt King felt about his privileged upbringing, and how he was driven by competitiveness with his father, who had moral failures of his own.

He lingers on the cadences of King’s speeches, explaining how he learned to work his audience, to stretch and rouse them at the same time. He had the best material on his side, and he knew it. Eig puts it this way: “Here was a man building a reform movement on the most American of pillars: the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the American dream.”

Eig’s book is worthy of its subject.

Audio produced by Kate Winslett .

KING: A Life | By Jonathan Eig | Illustrated | 669 pp. | Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $35

Dwight Garner has been a book critic for The Times since 2008. His new book, “The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading,” is out this fall. More about Dwight Garner

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The King Center

About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. king jr..

Dr. Martin Luther King

Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950s and ‘ 60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Nobel Peace Prize lecture and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are among the most revered orations and writings in the English language. His accomplishments are now taught to American children of all races, and his teachings are studied by scholars and students worldwide. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor and is the only non-president memorialized on the Great Mall in the nation’s capital. He is memorialized in hundreds of statues, parks, streets, squares, churches and other public facilities around the world as a leader whose teachings are increasingly-relevant to the progress of humankind.

Some of Dr. King’s Most Important Achievements

the biography of martin luther king junior

In 1957 , Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He would serve as head of the SCLC until his assassination in 1968, a period during which he would emerge as the most important social leader of the modern American civil rights movement.

In 1963 , he led a coalition of numerous civil rights groups in a nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama, which at the time was described as the “most segregated city in America.” The subsequent brutality of the city’s police, illustrated most vividly by television images of young blacks being assaulted by dogs and water hoses, led to a national outrage resulting in a push for unprecedented civil rights legislation. It was during this campaign that Dr. King drafted the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the manifesto of Dr. King’s philosophy and tactics, which is today required-reading in universities worldwide.

Later in 1963 , Dr. King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew over a quarter-million people to the national mall. It was at this march that Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights. Dr. King was later named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”

the biography of martin luther king junior

Also in 1964 , partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation, areas which at the time were still very segregated in many places.

The next year, 1965 , Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally-important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans, who in some locales had been almost completely disenfranchised. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL March for Voting Rights lead by Dr. King.

Between 1965 and 1968, Dr. King shifted his focus toward economic justice – which he highlighted by leading several campaigns in Chicago, Illinois – and international peace – which he championed by speaking out strongly against the Vietnam War. His work in these years culminated in the “Poor Peoples Campaign,” which was a broad effort to assemble a multiracial coalition of impoverished Americans who would advocate for economic change.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less than thirteen years of nonviolent leadership ended abruptly and tragically on April 4th, 1968 , when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King’s body was returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where his funeral ceremony was attended by high-level leaders of all races and political stripes.

  • For more information regarding the Transcription of the King Family Press Conference on the MLK Assassination Trial Verdict December 9, 1999, Atlanta, GA. Click Here
  • For more information regarding the Civil Case: King family versus Jowers. Click here .
  • Later in 1968, Dr. King’s wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, officially founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which she dedicated to being a “living memorial” aimed at continuing Dr. King’s work on important social ills around the world.

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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929–April 4, 1968) was the charismatic leader of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He directed the year-long Montgomery bus boycott , which attracted scrutiny by a wary, divided nation, but his leadership and the resulting Supreme Court ruling against bus segregation brought him fame. He formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to coordinate nonviolent protests and delivered over 2,500 speeches addressing racial injustice, but his life was cut short by an assassin in 1968.

Fast Facts: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Known For : Leader of the U.S. civil rights movement
  • Also Known As : Michael Lewis King Jr.
  • Born : Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Parents : Michael King Sr., Alberta Williams
  • Died : April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee
  • Education : Crozer Theological Seminary, Boston University
  • Published Works : Stride Toward Freedom, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
  • Awards and Honors : Nobel Peace Prize
  • Spouse : Coretta Scott
  • Children : Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, Bernice
  • Notable Quote : "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."

Martin Luther King Jr. was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Michael King Sr., pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta Williams, a Spelman College graduate and former schoolteacher. King lived with his parents, a sister, and a brother in the Victorian home of his maternal grandparents.

Martin—named Michael Lewis until he was 5—thrived in a middle-class family, going to school, playing football and baseball, delivering newspapers, and doing odd jobs. Their father was involved in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and had led a successful campaign for equal wages for White and Black Atlanta teachers. When Martin's grandfather died in 1931, Martin's father became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, serving for 44 years.

After attending the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin in 1934, King Sr. changed his and his son's name from Michael King to Martin Luther King, after the Protestant reformist. King Sr. was inspired by Martin Luther's courage of confronting institutionalized evil.

Wikimedia Commons

King entered Morehouse College at 15. King's wavering attitude toward his future career in the clergy led him to engage in activities typically not condoned by the church. He played pool, drank beer, and received his lowest academic marks in his first two years at Morehouse.

King studied sociology and considered law school while reading voraciously. He was fascinated by Henry David Thoreau 's essay " On Civil Disobedience" and its idea of noncooperation with an unjust system. King decided that social activism was his calling and religion the best means to that end. He was ordained as a minister in February 1948, the year he graduated with a sociology degree at age 19.

In September 1948, King entered the predominately White Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. He read works by great theologians but despaired that no philosophy was complete within itself. Then, hearing a lecture about Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi , he became captivated by his concept of nonviolent resistance. King concluded that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through nonviolence, could be a powerful weapon for his people.

In 1951, King graduated at the top of his class with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. In September of that year, he enrolled in doctoral studies at Boston University's School of Theology.

While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott , a singer studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. While King knew early on that she had all the qualities he desired in a wife, initially, Coretta was hesitant about dating a minister. The couple married on June 18, 1953. King's father performed the ceremony at Coretta's family home in Marion, Alabama. They returned to Boston to complete their degrees.

King was invited to preach in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which had a history of civil rights activism. The pastor was retiring. King captivated the congregation and became the pastor in April 1954. Coretta, meanwhile, was committed to her husband's work but was conflicted about her role. King wanted her to stay home with their four children: Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice. Explaining her feelings on the issue, Coretta told Jeanne Theoharis in a 2018 article in The Guardian , a British newspaper:

“I once told Martin that although I loved being his wife and a mother, if that was all I did I would have gone crazy. I felt a calling on my life from an early age. I knew I had something to contribute to the world.”

And to a degree, King seemed to agree with his wife, saying he fully considered her a partner in the struggle for civil rights as well as on all other issues with which he was involved. Indeed, in his autobiography, he stated:

"I didn't want a wife I couldn't communicate with. I had to have a wife who would be as dedicated as I was. I wish I could say that I led her down this path, but I must say we went down it together because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now."

Yet, Coretta felt strongly that her role, and the role of women in general in the civil rights movement, had long been "marginalized" and overlooked, according to The Guardian . As early as 1966, Corretta wrote in an article published in the British women's magazine New Lady:

“Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle….Women have been the backbone of the whole civil rights movement.…Women have been the ones who have made it possible for the movement to be a mass movement.”

Historians and observers have noted that King did not support gender equality in the civil rights movement. In an article in The Chicago Reporter , a monthly publication that covers race and poverty issues, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein wrote that women "played a limited role in the SCLC." Lowenstein further explained:

"Here the experience of legendary organizer Ella Baker is instructive. Baker struggled to have her voice leaders of the male-dominated organization. This disagreement prompted Baker, who played a key role in the formation of the  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee , to counsel young members like John Lewis to retain their independence from the older group. Historian Barbara Ransby wrote in her 2003 biography of Baker that the SCLC ministers were 'not ready to welcome her into the organization on an equal footing' because to do so 'would be too far afield from the gender relations they were used to in the church.'"

Montgomery Bus Boycott

When King arrived in Montgomery to join the Dexter Avenue church, Rosa Parks , secretary of the local NAACP chapter, had been arrested for refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a White man. Parks' December 1, 1955, arrest presented the perfect opportunity to make a case for desegregating the transit system.

E.D. Nixon, former head of the local NAACP chapter, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a close friend of King, contacted King and other clergymen to plan a citywide bus boycott. The group drafted demands and stipulated that no Black person would ride the buses on December 5.

That day, nearly 20,000 Black citizens refused bus rides. Because Black people comprised 90% of the passengers, most buses were empty. When the boycott ended 381 days later, Montgomery's transit system was nearly bankrupt. Additionally, on November 23, in the case of Gayle v. Browder , the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "Racially segregated transportation systems enforced by the government violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," according to Oyez, an online archive of U.S. Supreme Court cases operated by the Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law. The court also cited the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka , where it had ruled in 1954 that "segregation of public education based solely on race (violates) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," according to Oyez. On December 20, 1956, the Montgomery Improvement Association voted to end the boycott.

Buoyed by success, the movement's leaders met in January 1957 in Atlanta and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to coordinate nonviolent protests through Black churches. King was elected president and held the post until his death.

Principles of Nonviolence

In early 1958, King's first book, "Stride Toward Freedom," which detailed the Montgomery bus boycott, was published. While signing books in Harlem, New York, King was stabbed by a Black woman with a mental health condition. As he recovered, he visited India's Gandhi Peace Foundation in February 1959 to refine his protest strategies. In the book, greatly influenced by Gandhi's movement and teachings, he laid six principles, explaining that nonviolence:

Is not a method for cowards; it does resist : King noted that "Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight." Nonviolence is the method of a strong person; it is not "stagnant passivity."

Does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding : Even in conducting a boycott, for example, the purpose is "to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent" and the goal is one of "redemption and reconciliation," King said.

Is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil: "It is evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil," King wrote. The fight is not one of Black people versus White people, but to achieve "but a victory for justice and the forces of light," King wrote.

Is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back: Again citing Gandhi, King wrote: "The nonviolent resister is willing to accept violence if necessary, but never to inflict it. He does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it 'as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.'"

Avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit: Saying that you win through love not hate, King wrote: "The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him."

Is based on the conviction that   the universe is on the side of justice: The nonviolent person "can accept suffering without retaliation" because the resister knows that "love" and "justice" will win in the end.

Buyenlarge / Contributor / Getty Images

In April 1963, King and the SCLC joined Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in a nonviolent campaign to end segregation and force Birmingham, Alabama, businesses to hire Black people. Fire hoses and vicious dogs were unleashed on the protesters by “Bull” Connor's police officers. King was thrown into jail. King spent eight days in the Birmingham jail as a result of this arrest but used the time to write "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," affirming his peaceful philosophy.

The brutal images galvanized the nation. Money poured in to support the protesters; White allies joined demonstrations. By summer, thousands of public facilities nationwide were integrated, and companies began to hire Black people. The resulting political climate pushed the passage of civil rights legislation. On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 , which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. The law prohibited racial discrimination in public, ensured the "constitutional right to vote," and outlawed discrimination in places of employment.

March on Washington

CNP / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Then came the March on Washington, D.C .,  on August 28, 1963. Nearly 250,000 Americans listened to speeches by civil rights activists, but most had come for King. The Kennedy administration, fearing violence, edited a speech by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and invited White organizations to participate, causing some Black people to denigrate the event. Malcolm X labeled it the “farce in Washington."

Crowds far exceeded expectations. Speaker after speaker addressed them. The heat grew oppressive, but then King stood up. His speech started slowly, but King stopped reading from notes, either by inspiration or gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouting, “Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!”

He had had a dream, he declared, “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.” It was the most memorable speech of his life.

Nobel Prize

King, now known worldwide, was designated Time magazine's “Man of the Year” in 1963. He won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year and donated the $54,123 in winnings to advancing civil rights.

Not everyone was thrilled by King's success. Since the bus boycott, King had been under scrutiny by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoping to prove King was under communist influence, Hoover filed a request with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to put him under surveillance, including break-ins at homes and offices and wiretaps. However, despite "various kinds of FBI surveillance," the FBI found "no evidence of Communist influence," according to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

In the summer of 1964, King's nonviolent concept was challenged by deadly riots in the North. King believed their origins were segregation and poverty and shifted his focus to poverty, but he couldn't garner support. He organized a campaign against poverty in 1966 and moved his family into one of Chicago's Black neighborhoods, but he found that strategies successful in the South didn't work in Chicago. His efforts were met with "institutional resistance, skepticism from other activists and open violence," according to Matt Pearce in an article in the Los Angeles Times , published in January 2016, the 50th anniversary of King's efforts in the city. Even as he arrived in Chicago, King was met by "a line of police and a mob of angry white people," according to Pearce's article. King even commented on the scene:

“I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago. Yes, it’s definitely a closed society. We’re going to make it an open society.”

Despite the resistance, King and the SCLC worked to fight "slumlords, realtors and Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Democratic machine," according to the Times . But it was an uphill effort. "The civil rights movement had started to splinter. There were more militant activists who disagreed with King’s nonviolent tactics, even booing King at one meeting," Pearce wrote. Black people in the North (and elsewhere) turned from King's peaceful course to the concepts of Malcolm X.

King refused to yield, addressing what he considered the harmful philosophy of Black Power in his last book, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?" King sought to clarify the link between poverty and discrimination and to address America's increased involvement in Vietnam, which he considered unjustifiable and discriminatory toward those whose incomes were below the poverty level as well as Black people.

King's last major effort, the Poor People's Campaign, was organized with other civil rights groups to bring impoverished people to live in tent camps on the National Mall starting April 29, 1968.

Earlier that spring, King had gone to Memphis, Tennessee, to join a march supporting a strike by Black sanitation workers. After the march began, riots broke out; 60 people were injured and one person was killed, ending the march.

On April 3, King gave what became his last speech. He wanted a long life, he said, and had been warned of danger in Memphis but said death didn't matter because he'd "been to the mountaintop" and seen "the promised land."

On April 4, 1968, King stepped onto the balcony of Memphis' Lorraine Motel. A rifle bullet tore into his face . He died at St. Joseph's Hospital less than an hour later. King's death brought widespread grief to a violence-weary nation. Riots exploded across the country.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

King's body was brought home to Atlanta to lie at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he had co-pastored with his father for many years. At King's April 9, 1968, funeral, great words honored the slain leader, but the most apropos eulogy was delivered by King himself, via a recording of his last sermon at Ebenezer:

"If any of you are around when I meet my day, I don't want a long funeral...I'd like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others...And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity."

King had achieved much in the short span of 11 years. With accumulated travel topping 6 million miles, King could have gone to the moon and back 13 times. Instead, he traveled the world, making over 2,500 speeches, writing five books, and leading eight major nonviolent efforts for social change. King was arrested and jailed 29 times during his civil rights work, mainly in cities throughout the South, according to the website Face2Face Africa.  

King's legacy today lives through the Black Lives Matter movement, which is physically nonviolent but lacks Dr. King's principle on "the internal violence of the spirit" that says one should love, not hate, their oppressor. Dara T. Mathis wrote in an April 3, 2018, article in The Atlantic, that King's legacy of "militant nonviolence lives on in the pockets of mass protests" of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the country. But Mathis added:

"Conspicuously absent from the language modern activists use, however, is an appeal to America’s innate goodness, a call to fulfill the promise set forth by its Founding Fathers."

And Mathis further noted:

"Although Black Lives Matter practices nonviolence as a matter of strategy, love for the oppressor does not find its way into their ethos."

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan created a national holiday to celebrate the man who did so much for the United States. Reagan summed up King's legacy with these words that he gave during a speech dedicating the holiday to the fallen civil rights leader:

"So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us—if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King's dream comes true, and in his words, 'All of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'"

Coretta Scott King, who had fought hard to see the holiday established and was at the White House ceremony that day, perhaps summed up King's legacy most eloquently, sounding wistful and hopeful that her husband's legacy would continue to be embraced:

"He loved unconditionally. He was in constant pursuit of truth, and when he discovered it, he embraced it. His nonviolent campaigns brought about redemption, reconciliation, and justice. He taught us that only peaceful means can bring about peaceful ends, that our goal was to create the love community.
"America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, a more peaceful nation because Martin Luther King, Jr., became her preeminent nonviolent commander."

Additional References

  • Abernathy, Ralph David. "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography." Paperback, Unabridged edition, Chicago Review Press, April 1, 2010.
  • Branch, Taylor. "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63." America in the King Years, Reprint edition, Simon & Schuster, November 15, 1989.
  • Brown v. Board of Education Topeka .
  • “ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) .”  The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute , 21 May 2018.
  • Gayle v. Browder .
  • Garrow, David. "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference." Paperback, Reprint edition, William Morrow Paperbacks, January 6, 2004.
  • Hansen, Drew. " Mahalia Jackson and King's Improvisation . ” The New York Times, Aug. 27, 2013.
  • Lowenstein, Jeff Kelly. “ Martin Luther King Jr., Women, and the Possibility of Growth .”  Chicago Reporter , 21 Jan. 2019.
  • McGrew, Jannell. “ The Montgomery Bus Boycott: They Changed the World .
  • “Principles of Nonviolent Resistance By Martin Luther King Jr.”  Resource Center for Nonviolence , 8 Aug. 2018.
  • “ Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday .”  Ronald Reagan ,
  • Theoharis, Jeanne. “' I Am Not a Symbol, I Am an Activist': the Untold Story of Coretta Scott King .”  The Guardian , Guardian News and Media, 3 Feb. 2018.
  • X, Malcolm. "The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley." Alex Haley, Attallah Shabazz, Paperback, Reissue edition, Ballantine Books, November 1992.

Michael Eli Dokos. “ Ever Knew Martin Luther King Jr. Was Arrested 29 Times for His Civil Rights Work? ”  Face2Face Africa , 23 Feb. 2020.

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Martin Luther King Jr. after his "I Have a Dream" speech


Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

A civil rights legend, Dr. King fought for justice through peaceful protest—and delivered some of the 20th century's most iconic speeches.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is a civil rights legend. In the mid-1950s, King led the movement to end segregation and counter prejudice in the United States through the means of peaceful protest. His speeches—some of the most iconic of the 20th century—had a profound effect on the national consciousness. Through his leadership, the civil rights movement opened doors to education and employment that had long been closed to Black America.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King for his commitment to equal rights and justice for all. Observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, it’s called Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In January 2000, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states . Here’s what you need to know about King’s extraordinary life.

Though King's name is known worldwide, many may not realize that he was born Michael King, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. His father , Michael King, was a pastor at the   Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. During a trip to Germany, King, Sr. was so impressed by the history of Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther that he changed not only his own name, but also five-year-old Michael’s.

( Read about Martin Luther King, Jr. with your kids .)

His brilliance was noted early, as he was accepted into Morehouse College , a historically Black school in Atlanta, at age 15. By the summer before his last year of college, King knew he was destined to continue the family profession of pastoral work and decided to enter the ministry. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Morehouse at age 19, and then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.

King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. They became the parents of four children : Yolanda King (1955–2007), Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), Dexter Scott King (b. 1961), and Bernice King (b. 1963).

Becoming a civil rights leader

In 1954, when he was 25 years old, Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In March 1955, Claudette Colvin—a 15-year-old Black schoolgirl in Montgomery—refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, which was a violation of Jim Crow laws, local laws in the southern United States that enforced racial segregation.  

( Jim Crow laws created 'slavery by another name. ')

King was on the committee from the Birmingham African-American community that looked into the case. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) briefly considered using Colvin's case to challenge the segregation laws, but decided that because she was so young—and had become pregnant—her case would attract too much negative attention.

Nine months later on December 1, 1955, a similar incident occurred when a seamstress named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. The two incidents led to the Montgomery bus boycott , which was urged and planned by the President of the Alabama Chapter of the NAACP, E.D. Nixon, and led by King. The boycott lasted for 385 days.

Martin Luther King Jr. released from prison

King’s prominent and outspoken role in the boycott led to numerous threats against his life, and his house was firebombed. He was arrested during the campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle   ( in which Colvin was a plaintiff ) that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.

Fighting for change through nonviolent protest

From the early days of the Montgomery boycott, King had often referred to India’s Mahatma Gandhi as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

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In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to harness the organizing power of Black churches to conduct nonviolent protests to ultimately achieve civil rights reform. The group was part of what was called “The Big Five” of civil rights organizations, which included the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Congress on Racial Equality.

Through his connections with the Big Five civil rights groups, overwhelming support from Black America and with the support of prominent individual well-wishers, King’s skill and effectiveness grew exponentially. He organized and led marches for Blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights.

( How the U.S. Voting Rights Act was won—and why it's under fire today .)

On August 28, 1963, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom became the pinnacle of King’s national and international influence. Before a crowd of 250,000 people, he delivered the legendary “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That speech, along with many others that King delivered, has had a lasting influence on world rhetoric .

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights and social justice activism. Most of the rights King organized protests around were successfully enacted into law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act .

Economic justice and the Vietnam War

King’s opposition to the Vietnam War became a prominent part of his public persona. On April 4, 1967—exactly one year before his death—he gave a speech called “Beyond Vietnam” in New York City, in which he proposed a stop to the bombing of Vietnam. King also suggested that the United States declare a truce with the aim of achieving peace talks, and that the U.S. set a date for withdrawal.

( King's advocacy for human rights around the world still inspires today .)

Ultimately, King was driven to focus on social and economic justice in the United States. He had traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in early April 1968 to help organize a sanitation workers’ strike, and on the night of April 3, he delivered the legendary “I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech , in which he compared the strike to the long struggle for human freedom and the battle for economic justice, using the New Testament's Parable of the Good Samaritan to stress the need for people to get involved.


But King would not live to realize that vision. The next day, April 4, 1968, King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis by James Earl Ray , a small-time criminal who had escaped the year before from a maximum-security prison. Ray was charged and convicted of the murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison on March 10, 1969. But Ray changed his mind after three days in jail, claiming he was not guilty and had been framed. He spent the rest of his life fighting unsuccessfully for a trial, despite the ultimate support of some members of the King family and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

The turmoil that flowed from King’s assassination led many Black Americans to wonder if that dream he had spoken of so eloquently had died with him. But, today, young people around the world still learn about King's life and legacy—and his vision of equality and justice for all continue to resonate.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social justice movements of his time. Although King was only 39 at the time of his death, his life was remarkable for the ways it reflected and inspired so many of the twentieth century’s major intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

The son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, Martin Luther King, Jr., named Michael King at birth, was born in Atlanta and spent his first 12 years in the Auburn Avenue home that his parents, the Reverend Michael King  and Alberta Williams King, shared with his maternal grandparents, the Reverend Adam Daniel (A. D.)  Williams  and Jeannie Celeste Williams. After Reverend Williams’ death in 1931, his son-in-law became  Ebenezer Baptist Church ’s new pastor and gradually established himself as a major figure in state and national Baptist groups. The elder King began referring to himself (and later to his son) as Martin Luther King.

King’s formative experiences not only immersed him in the affairs of Ebenezer but also introduced him to the African-American  social gospel  tradition exemplified by his father and grandfather, both of whom were leaders of the Atlanta branch of the  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  (NAACP). Depression-era breadlines heightened King’s awareness of economic inequities, and his father’s leadership of campaigns against racial discrimination in voting and teachers’ salaries provided a model for the younger King’s own politically engaged ministry. He resisted religious emotionalism and as a teenager questioned some facets of Baptist doctrine, such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

During his undergraduate years at Atlanta’s  Morehouse College  from 1944 to 1948, King gradually overcame his initial reluctance to accept his inherited calling. Morehouse president Benjamin E.  Mays  influenced King’s spiritual development, encouraging him to view Christianity as a potential force for progressive social change. Religion professor George  Kelsey  exposed him to biblical criticism and, according to King’s autobiographical sketch, taught him “that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape” ( Papers  1:43 ). King admired both educators as deeply religious yet also learned men and, by the end of his junior year, such academic role models and the example of his father led King to enter the ministry. He described his decision as a response to an “inner urge” calling him to “serve humanity” ( Papers  1:363 ). He was ordained during his final semester at Morehouse, and by this time King had also taken his first steps toward political activism. He had responded to the postwar wave of anti-black violence by proclaiming in a letter to the editor of the  Atlanta Constitution  that African Americans were “entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens” ( Papers  1:121 ). During his senior year King joined the Intercollegiate Council, an interracial student discussion group that met monthly at Atlanta’s Emory University.

After leaving Morehouse, King increased his understanding of liberal Christian thought while attending  Crozer Theological Seminary  in Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1951. Initially uncritical of liberal theology, he gradually moved toward Reinhold  Niebuhr ’s neo-orthodoxy, which emphasized the intractability of social evil. Mentored by local minister and King family friend J. Pius  Barbour , he reacted skeptically to a presentation on pacifism by  Fellowship of Reconciliation  leader A. J.  Muste . Moreover, by the end of his seminary studies King had become increasingly dissatisfied with the abstract conceptions of God held by some modern theologians and identified himself instead with the theologians who affirmed  personalism , or a belief in the personality of God. Even as he continued to question and modify his own religious beliefs, he compiled an outstanding academic record and graduated at the top of his class.

In 1951, King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at  Boston University ’s School of Theology, which was dominated by personalist theologians such as Edgar  Brightman  and L. Harold  DeWolf . The papers (including his  dissertation ) that King wrote during his years at Boston University displayed little originality, and some contained extensive plagiarism; but his readings enabled him to formulate an eclectic yet coherent theological perspective. By the time he completed his doctoral studies in 1955, King had refined his exceptional ability to draw upon a wide range of theological and philosophical texts to express his views with force and precision. His capacity to infuse his oratory with borrowed theological insights became evident in his expanding preaching activities in Boston-area churches and at Ebenezer, where he assisted his father during school vacations.

During his stay in Boston, King also met and courted Coretta  Scott , an Alabama-born Antioch College graduate who was then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. On 18 June 1953, the two students were married in Marion, Alabama, where Scott’s family lived.

Although he considered pursuing an academic career, King decided in 1954 to accept an offer to become the pastor of  Dexter Avenue Baptist Church  in Montgomery, Alabama. In December 1955, when Montgomery black leaders such as Jo Ann  Robinson , E. D.  Nixon , and Ralph  Abernathy  formed the  Montgomery Improvement Association  (MIA) to protest the arrest of NAACP official Rosa  Parks  for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, they selected King to head the new group. In his role as the primary spokesman of the year-long  Montgomery bus boycott , King utilized the leadership abilities he had gained from his religious background and academic training to forge a distinctive protest strategy that involved the mobilization of black churches and skillful appeals for white support. With the encouragement of Bayard  Rustin , Glenn  Smiley , William Stuart  Nelson , and other veteran pacifists, King also became a firm advocate of Mohandas  Gandhi ’s precepts of  nonviolence , which he combined with Christian social gospel ideas.

After the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Alabama bus segregation laws in  Browder v. Gayle  in late 1956, King sought to expand the nonviolent civil rights movement throughout the South. In 1957, he joined with C. K.  Steele , Fred  Shuttlesworth , and T. J.  Jemison  in founding the  Southern Christian Leadership Conference  (SCLC) with King as president to coordinate civil rights activities throughout the region. Publication of King’s memoir of the boycott,  Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story  (1958), further contributed to his rapid emergence as a national civil rights leader. Even as he expanded his influence, however, King acted cautiously. Rather than immediately seeking to stimulate mass desegregation protests in the South, King stressed the goal of achieving black voting rights when he addressed an audience at the 1957  Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom .

King’s rise to fame was not without personal consequences. In 1958, King was the victim of his first assassination attempt. Although his house had been bombed several times during the Montgomery bus boycott, it was while signing copies of  Stride Toward Freedom  that Izola Ware  Curry  stabbed him with a letter opener. Surgery to remove it was successful, but King had to recuperate for several months, giving up all protest activity.

One of the key aspects of King’s leadership was his ability to establish support from many types of organizations, including labor unions, peace organizations, southern reform organizations, and religious groups. As early as 1956, labor unions, such as the  United Packinghouse Workers of America  and the United Auto Workers, contributed to MIA, and peace activists such as Homer  Jack  alerted their associates to MIA activities. Activists from southern organizations, such as Myles Horton’s  Highlander Folk School  and Anne  Braden ’s Southern Conference Educational Fund, were in frequent contact with King. In addition, his extensive ties to the  National Baptist Convention  provided support from churches all over the nation; and his advisor, Stanley  Levison , ensured broad support from Jewish groups.

King’s recognition of the link between segregation and colonialism resulted in alliances with groups fighting oppression outside the United States, especially in Africa. In March 1957, King traveled to  Ghana  at the invitation of Kwame  Nkrumah  to attend the nation’s independence ceremony. Shortly after returning from Ghana, King joined the  American Committee on Africa , agreeing to serve as vice chairman of an International Sponsoring Committee for a day of protest against South Africa’s  apartheid  government. Later, at an SCLC-sponsored event honoring Kenyan labor leader Tom  Mboya , King further articulated the connections between the African American freedom struggle and those abroad: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” ( Papers  5:204 ).

During 1959, he increased his understanding of Gandhian ideas during a month-long visit to  India  sponsored by the  American Friends Service Committee . With Coretta and MIA historian Lawrence D.  Reddick  in tow, King met with many Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal  Nehru . Writing after his return, King stated: “I left India more convinced than ever before that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” ( Papers  5:233 ).

Early the following year, he moved his family, which now included two children— Yolanda King  and Martin Luther King, III —to Atlanta in order to be nearer to SCLC headquarters in that city and to become co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church. (The Kings’ third child, Dexter King , was born in 1961; their fourth, Bernice King , was born in 1963.) Soon after King’s arrival in Atlanta, the southern civil rights movement gained new impetus from the student-led lunch counter  sit-in  movement that spread throughout the region during 1960. The sit-ins brought into existence a new protest group, the  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (SNCC), which would often push King toward greater militancy. King came in contact with students, especially those from Nashville such as John  Lewis , James  Bevel , and Diane  Nash , who had been trained in nonviolent tactics by James  Lawson . In October 1960, King’s arrest during a student-initiated protest in Atlanta became an issue in the national presidential campaign when Democratic candidate John F.  Kennedy  called Coretta King to express his concern. The successful efforts of Kennedy supporters to secure King’s release contributed to the Democratic candidate’s narrow victory over Republican candidate Richard  Nixon .

King’s decision to move to Atlanta was partly caused by SCLC’s lack of success during the late 1950s. Associate director Ella  Baker  had complained that SCLC’s Crusade for Citizenship suffered from lack of attention from King. SCLC leaders hoped that with King now in Atlanta, strategy would be improved. The hiring of Wyatt Tee  Walker  as executive director in 1960 was also seen as a step toward bringing efficiency to the organization, while the addition of Dorothy  Cotton  and Andrew  Young  to the staff infused new leadership after SCLC took over the administration of the Citizenship Education Program pioneered by Septima  Clark . Attorney Clarence  Jones  also began to assist King and SCLC with legal matters and to act as King’s advisor.

As the southern protest movement expanded during the early 1960s, King was often torn between the increasingly militant student activists, such as those who participated in the  Freedom Rides , and more cautious national civil rights leaders. During 1961 and 1962, his tactical differences with SNCC activists surfaced during a sustained protest movement in Albany, Georgia. King was arrested twice during demonstrations organized by the  Albany Movement , but when he left jail and ultimately left Albany without achieving a victory, some movement activists began to question his militancy and his dominant role within the southern protest movement.

As King encountered increasingly fierce white opposition, he continued his movement away from theological abstractions toward more reassuring conceptions, rooted in African-American religious culture, of God as a constant source of support. He later wrote in his book of sermons,  Strength to Love  (1963), that the travails of movement leadership caused him to abandon the notion of God as “theologically and philosophically satisfying” and caused him to view God as “a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life” ( Papers  5:424 ). 

During 1963, however, King reasserted his preeminence within the African-American freedom struggle through his leadership of the  Birmingham Campaign . Initiated by SCLC and its affiliate, the  Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights , the Birmingham demonstrations were the most massive civil rights protests that had yet occurred. With the assistance of Fred Shuttlesworth and other local black leaders, and with little competition from SNCC and other civil rights groups, SCLC officials were able to orchestrate the Birmingham protests to achieve maximum national impact. King’s decision to intentionally allow himself to be arrested for leading a demonstration on 12 April prodded the Kennedy administration to intervene in the escalating protests. The widely quoted “ Letter from Birmingham Jail ” displayed his distinctive ability to influence public opinion by appropriating ideas from the Bible, the Constitution, and other canonical texts. During May, televised pictures of police using dogs and fire hoses against young demonstrators generated a national outcry against white segregationist officials in Birmingham. The brutality of Birmingham officials and the refusal of Alabama’s governor George C.  Wallace  to allow the admission of black students at the University of Alabama prompted President Kennedy to introduce major civil rights legislation.

King’s speech  at the 28 August 1963  March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom , attended by more than 200,000 people, was the culmination of a wave of civil rights protest activity that extended even to northern cities. In his prepared remarks, King announced that African Americans wished to cash the “promissory note” signified in the egalitarian rhetoric of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Closing his address with extemporaneous remarks, he insisted that he had not lost hope: “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 ... 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.’” He appropriated the familiar words of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” before concluding, “When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” (King, “I Have a Dream”).

Although there was much elation after the March on Washington, less than a month later, the movement was shocked by another act of senseless violence. On 15 September 1963, a dynamite blast at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killed four young school girls. King delivered the eulogy for three of the four girls, reflecting: “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers” (King,  Eulogy for the Martyred Children ).

St. Augustine, Florida  became the site of the next major confrontation of the civil rights movement. Beginning in 1963, Robert B.  Hayling , of the local NAACP, had led sit-ins against segregated businesses. SCLC was called in to help in May 1964, suffering the arrest of King and Abernathy. After a few court victories, SCLC left when a biracial committee was formed; however, local residents continued to suffer violence.

King’s ability to focus national attention on orchestrated confrontations with racist authorities, combined with his oration at the 1963 March on Washington, made him the most influential African-American spokesperson of the first half of the 1960s. He was named  Time  magazine’s “Man of the Year”  at the end of 1963, and was awarded the  Nobel Peace Prize  in December 1964. The acclaim King received strengthened his stature among civil rights leaders but also prompted  Federal Bureau of Investigation  (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover to step up his effort to damage King’s reputation. Hoover, with the approval of President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert  Kennedy , established phone taps and bugs. Hoover and many other observers of the southern struggle saw King as controlling events, but he was actually a moderating force within an increasingly diverse black militancy of the mid-1960s. Although he was not personally involved in  Freedom Summer  (1964), he was called upon to attempt to persuade the  Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party  delegates to accept a compromise at the Democratic Party National Convention.

As the African-American struggle expanded from desegregation protests to mass movements seeking economic and political gains in the North as well as the South, King’s active involvement was limited to a few highly publicized civil rights campaigns, such as Birmingham and St. Augustine, which secured popular support for the passage of national civil rights legislation, particularly the  Civil Rights Act of 1964 .

The Alabama protests reached a turning point on 7 March 1965, when state police attacked a group of demonstrators at the start of a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. Carrying out Governor Wallace’s orders, the police used tear gas and clubs to turn back the marchers after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma. Unprepared for the violent confrontation, King alienated some activists when he decided to postpone the continuation of the  Selma to Montgomery March  until he had received court approval, but the march, which finally secured federal court approval, attracted several thousand civil rights sympathizers, black and white, from all regions of the nation. On 25 March, King addressed the arriving marchers from the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. The march and the subsequent killing of a white participant, Viola Liuzzo, as well as the earlier murder of James  Reeb  dramatized the denial of black voting rights and spurred passage during the following summer of the  Voting Rights Act of 1965 .

After the march in Alabama, King was unable to garner similar support for his effort to confront the problems of northern urban blacks. Early in 1966 he, together with local activist Al  Raby , launched a major campaign against poverty and other urban problems, and King moved his family into an apartment in Chicago’s black ghetto. As King shifted the focus of his activities to the North, however, he discovered that the tactics used in the South were not as effective elsewhere. He encountered formidable opposition from Mayor Richard Daley and was unable to mobilize Chicago’s economically and ideologically diverse black community. King was stoned by angry whites in the Chicago suburb of Cicero when he led a march against racial discrimination in housing. Despite numerous mass protests, the  Chicago Campaign  resulted in no significant gains and undermined King’s reputation as an effective civil rights leader.

King’s influence was damaged further by the increasingly caustic tone of black militancy in the period after 1965. Black radicals increasingly turned away from the Gandhian precepts of King toward the  black nationalism  of  Malcolm X , whose posthumously published autobiography and speeches reached large audiences after his assassination in February 1965. Unable to influence the black insurgencies that occurred in many urban areas, King refused to abandon his firmly rooted beliefs about racial integration and nonviolence. He was nevertheless unpersuaded by black nationalist calls for racial uplift and institutional development in black communities. 

In June 1966, James  Meredith  was shot while attempting a “March against Fear” in Mississippi. King, Floyd  McKissick  of the  Congress of Racial Equality , and Stokely  Carmichael  of SNCC decided to continue his march. During the march, the activists from SNCC decided to test a new slogan that they had been using,  Black Power . King objected to the use of the term, but the media took the opportunity to expose the disagreements among protesters and publicized the term.

In his last book,  Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  (1967), King dismissed the claim of Black Power advocates “to be the most revolutionary wing of the social revolution taking place in the United States,” but he acknowledged that they responded to a psychological need among African Americans he had not previously addressed (King,  Where Do We Go , 45–46). “Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery,” King wrote. “The Negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation” (King, “Where Do We Go From Here?”).

Indeed, even as his popularity declined, King spoke out strongly against American involvement in the  Vietnam War , making his position public in an address, “ Beyond Vietnam ,” on 4 April 1967, at New York’s Riverside Church. King’s involvement in the anti-war movement reduced his ability to influence national racial policies and made him a target of further FBI investigations. Nevertheless, he became ever more insistent that his version of Gandhian nonviolence and social gospel Christianity was the most appropriate response to the problems of black Americans.

In December 1967, King announced the formation of the  Poor People’s Campaign , designed to prod the federal government to strengthen its antipoverty efforts. King and other SCLC workers began to recruit poor people and antipoverty activists to come to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of improved antipoverty programs. This effort was in its early stages when King became involved in the  Memphis sanitation workers’ strike  in Tennessee. On 28 March 1968, as King led thousands of sanitation workers and sympathizers on a march through downtown Memphis, black youngsters began throwing rocks and looting stores. This outbreak of violence led to extensive press criticisms of King’s entire antipoverty strategy. King returned to Memphis for the last time in early April.  Addressing  an audience at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple on 3 April, King affirmed his optimism despite the “difficult days” that lay ahead. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now,” he declared, “because I’ve been to the mountaintop.... and I’ve seen the Promised Land.” He continued, “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,” (King, “ I’ve Been to the Mountaintop ”). The following evening, the  assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. , took place as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A white segregationist, James Earl Ray, was later convicted of the crime. The Poor People’s Campaign continued for a few months after King’s death, under the direction of Ralph Abernathy, the new SCLC president, but it did not achieve its objectives.

Until his death, King remained steadfast in his commitment to the transformation of American society through nonviolent activism. In his posthumously published essay, “A Testament of Hope” (1969), he urged African Americans to refrain from violence but also warned: “White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” The “black revolution” was more than a civil rights movement, he insisted. “It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism” (King, “Testament,” 194).

After her husband’s death, Coretta Scott King established the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change (also known as the  King Center ) to promote Gandhian-Kingian concepts of nonviolent struggle. She also led the successful effort to honor her husband with a federally mandated  King national holiday , which was first celebrated in 1986. 

Introduction, in  Papers  1:1–57 .

King, “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” 12 September 1950–22 November 1950, in  Papers  1:359–363 .

King, Eulogy for the Martyred Children, 18 September 1963, in  A Call to Conscience , ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, “I Have a Dream,” Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963, in  A Call to Conscience , ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, 3 April 1968, in  A Call to Conscience , ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, “Kick Up Dust,” Letter to the Editor,  Atlanta Constitution , 6 August 1946, in  Papers  1:121 .

King, “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi,” July 1959, in  Papers  5:231–238 .

King, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 13 April 1960, in  Papers  5:419–425 .

King, Remarks Delivered at Africa Freedom Dinner at Atlanta University, 13 May 1959, in  Papers  5:203–204 .

King,  Strength to Love , 1963.

King, “A Testament of Hope,” in  Playboy  (16 January 1969): 193–194, 231–236.

King, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” Address Delivered at the Eleventh Annual SCLC Convention, 16 August 1967, in  A Call to Conscience , ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King,  Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? , 1967.

  • African American Heroes

Hero for All: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., never backed down in his stand against racism. Learn more about the life of this courageous hero who inspired millions of people to right a historical wrong.

A hero is born

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia , in 1929. At the time in that part of the country, segregation—or the separation of races in places like schools, buses, and restaurants—was the law. He experienced racial predjudice from the time he was very young, which inspired him to dedicate his life to achieving equality and justice for Americans of all colors. King believed that peaceful refusal to obey unjust law was the best way to bring about social change.

Marching Forward

King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead demonstrators on the fourth day of a historic five-day march in 1965. Starting in Selma, Alabama , where local African Americans had been campaigning for the right to vote, King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators 54 miles to the state capitol of Montgomery.

Brave sacrifices

King was arrested several times during his lifetime. In 1960, he joined Black college students in a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy interceded to have King released from jail, an action that is credited with helping Kennedy win the presidency.

speaking out

King inspires a large crowd with one of his many speeches. Raised in a family of preachers, he's considered one of the greatest speakers in U.S. history.


King waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during the March on Washington . There, he delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech, which boosted public support for civil rights.

making history

President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes King's hand at the signing of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial segregation in publicly owned facilities.


King his wife, Coretta Scott King, sit with three of their four children in their Atlanta, Georgia, home in 1963. His wife shared the same commitment to ending the racist system they had both grown up under.

A win for peace

King receives the Nobel Prize for Peace from Gunnar Jahn, president of the Nobel Prize Committee, in Oslo, Norway , on December 10, 1964.

Remembering a hero

A crowd of mourners follows the casket of King through the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, after his assassination in April 4, 1968. King was shot by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Americans honor the civil rights activist on the third Monday of January each year, Martin Luther King Day.

Learn more at National Geographic.


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A new biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. explores the activist's life and faith

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

King:A Life , the new biography by Jonathan Eig, provides a fresh perspective into the life of one of America's most important activists. From his upbringing in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to his path through university and the frontlines of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s career and impact is explained through his faith and relationships. In today's episode, Eig speaks to NPR's Steve Inskeep about how Dr. King rose to prominence at such a young age, and how he maintained his spirituality through deep scrutiny and surveillance.

Author Interviews

Jonathan eig's new biography examines the life of martin luther king jr..

the biography of martin luther king junior

"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." Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963

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the biography of martin luther king junior

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Martin Luther King Jr. Assassination

By: Editors

Updated: December 15, 2023 | Original: January 28, 2010

Close-up of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shown in this photo head shoulders, alone.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, an event that sent shock waves reverberating around the world. A Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King had led the civil rights movement since the mid-1950s, using a combination of impassioned speeches and nonviolent protests to fight segregation and achieve significant civil rights advances for African Americans. His assassination led to an outpouring of anger among Black Americans, as well as a period of national mourning that helped speed the way for an equal housing bill that would be the last significant legislative achievement of the civil rights era.

King Assassination: Background

In the last years of his life, Dr. King faced mounting criticism from young African American activists who favored a more confrontational approach to seeking change. These young radicals stuck closer to the ideals of the Black nationalist leader Malcolm X ( himself assassinated in 1965 ), who had condemned King’s advocacy of nonviolence as “criminal” in the face of the continuing repression suffered by African Americans.

As a result of this opposition, King sought to widen his appeal beyond his own race, speaking out publicly against the Vietnam War and working to form a coalition of poor Americans—Black and white alike—to address such issues as poverty and unemployment.

Did you know? Among the witnesses at King's assassination was Jesse Jackson, one of his closest aides. Ordained as a minister soon after King's death, Jackson went on to form Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and to run twice for U.S. president, in 1984 and 1988.

In the spring of 1968, while preparing for a planned march to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of the poor, King and other SCLC members were called to Memphis, Tennessee , to support a sanitation workers’ strike. On the night of April 3, King gave a speech at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis.

In his speech, King seemed to foreshadow his own untimely passing, or at least to strike a particularly reflective note, ending with these now-historic words: “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. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

In fact, King had already survived an assassination attempt in the shoe section of a Harlem department store on September 20, 1958. The incident only affirmed his belief in non-violence.

Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At 6:05 p.m. the following day, King was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he and his associates were staying, when a sniper’s bullet struck him in the neck. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later, at the age of 39.

Shock and distress over the news of King’s death sparked rioting in more than 100 cities around the country, including burning and looting. Amid a wave of national mourning, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Americans to “reject the blind violence” that had killed King, whom he called the “apostle of nonviolence.”

He also called on Congress to speedily pass the civil rights legislation then entering the House of Representatives for debate, calling it a fitting legacy to King and his life’s work. On April 11, Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act , a major piece of civil rights legislation that prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. It is considered an important follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 .

King Assassination Conspiracy

On June 8, authorities apprehended the suspect in King’s murder, a small-time criminal named James Earl Ray , at London’s Heathrow Airport . Witnesses had seen him running from a boarding house near the Lorraine Motel carrying a bundle; prosecutors said he fired the fatal bullet from a bathroom in that building. Authorities found Ray’s fingerprints on the rifle used to kill King, a scope and a pair of binoculars.

On March 10, 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to King’s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. No testimony was heard in his trial. Shortly afterwards, however, Ray recanted his confession, claiming he was the victim of a conspiracy. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (who also investigated the assassination of JFK ) maintained that Ray’s shot killed king.

Ray later found sympathy in an unlikely place: Members of King’s family , including his son Dexter, who publicly met with Ray in 1977 and began arguing for a reopening of his case. Though the U.S. government conducted several investigations into the trial—each time confirming Ray’s guilt as the sole assassin—controversy still surrounds the assassination.

At the time of Ray’s death in 1998, King’s widow Coretta Scott King (who in the weeks after her husband’s death had courageously continued the campaign to aid the striking Memphis sanitation workers and carried on his mission of social change through nonviolent means) publicly lamented that “America will never have the benefit of Mr. Ray’s trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination…as well as establish the facts concerning Mr. Ray’s innocence.”

Impact of the King Assassination

Though Black and white people alike mourned King’s passing, the killing in some ways served to widen the rift between Black and white Americans, as many Black people saw King’s assassination as a rejection of their vigorous pursuit of equality through the nonviolent resistance he had championed.

His murder, like the killing of Malcolm X in 1965, radicalized many moderate African American activists, fueling the growth of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

King has remained the most widely known African American leader of his era, and the most public face of the civil rights movement , along with its most eloquent voice.

A campaign to establish a national holiday in his honor began almost immediately after his death, and its proponents overcame significant opposition—critics pointed to FBI surveillance files suggesting King’s adultery and his influence by Communists—before President Ronald Reagan signed the King holiday bill into law in 1983.

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the biography of martin luther king junior

Born Michael King on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, he was the second child and first son of Baptist minister Michael Luther King, Sr. and his wife, the former Alberta Williams, who herself was the daughter of the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. When King was two, his maternal grandfather died and his father became pastor. Four years after that — in 1935 — his father changed his name and his son’s name from Michael to Martin in honor of the sixteenth-century religious leader of the Protestant Reformation. Now known as Martin Luther King, Jr., he was enrolled at the all-black Young Street Grade School. Because of their position as church leaders, the King family did not feel the full extent of economic deprivation of the Great Depression. They did, however, feel the full brunt of racism and segregation which the elder King decried.

After completing his elementary education, King attended the Laboratory High School at the University of Atlanta until its closure in 1942. At that time, he transferred to Booker T. Washington High School, where he excelled academically. In 1944, King graduated from high school early and, after passing the entrance examinations, enrolled at Morehouse College at the age of 15. Initially, he had been resistant to pursuing a career in the ministry, mostly because he was embarrassed by the emotionality of the congregations of the black churches. While at Morehouse, though, he fell under the influence of the school’s president, Benjamin Mays, and his philosophy teacher, George D. Kelsey, both of whom were ordained ministers. While still an undergraduate in 1947, King became an ordained minister in his father’s church and preached his first sermon.

Graduating from Morehouse in 1948, King went on to study at the racially integrated Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. One of only six African-American students, he proved to be a superior student, even electing to take supplemental courses in philosophy at the nearby University of Pennsylvania. It was while studying at Crozer that King became an admirer of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, and he adopted Gandhi’s stance that nonviolent resistance could be used to channel anger and frustration into a more positive force for societal change. Upon completion of his degree, King was awarded a fellowship for graduate studies, and he enrolled in the doctoral program at Boston University, supplementing his course work with philosophy classes at Harvard. He completed the academic requirements in 1953 and turned to completing his doctoral dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” In June 1955, he earned his PhD. During the summer breaks while in graduate school, King returned to Atlanta where he would preach sermons at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. While still working on his dissertation, he accepted a post at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in the fall of 1954. He appealed to his congregation to become more involved in community and social affairs, stressing the importance of registering to vote and pressing them to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), on whose executive committee he served.

Within months of receiving his doctorate, King was able to put his ideals to the test. On December 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a Caucasian. Her subsequent arrest sparked a boycott of the public transportation system by the city’s African-American population. Although the boycott was already in place, King assumed a leadership position-putting into practice the teachings of civil disobedience he embraced and thrusting him into national prominence, especially after he was arrested. The boycott lasted for more than a year, during which time his home was twice bombed and his life was repeatedly threatened. His stance was vindicated, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state laws on segregation on buses were unconstitutional.

While it was a victory, it was only a small matter where segregation was concerned. In 1957, King and several others formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate activities related to the Civil Rights Movement. King was appointed president of the conference and engaged in a grueling schedule of speechmaking and world travel. He still found time to write an autobiographical account of the bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom (Harper, 1958). While on a promotional appearance for the book, he was attacked and stabbed by a mentally troubled African-American woman.

With an increased demand on his time and a packed schedule of lectures and appearances, King left Montgomery and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to return to Atlanta, where he joined his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. In his leadership role of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, he encouraged nonviolent demonstrations such as sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, theaters, and other venues. King met with President John F. Kennedy in October 1962 to press for a decisive and supportive stand from the Democratic administration. He led a now famous protest march in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 during which he was arrested. While incarcerated, he wrote the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a response to the white religious leaders of the city who had been critical of him and his actions. Eventually, the news media made the world aware of the injustices inflicted in the city by publishing photographs and articles showing the brutality of the police. A détente of sorts was reached between the races and Birmingham gradually developed a program for desegregation. King included tales of what happened in Birmingham in his book Why We Can’t Wait (Harper, 1964).

In August 1963, the then-largest Civil Rights demonstration in U.S. history — the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — was held, during which some quarter million people, including over 60,000 whites, made their way to the nation’s capital to press for the passage of legislation before Congress. The high point of the march was King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered appropriately at the Lincoln Memorial. He was chosen “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.

Although Congress adopted a Civil Rights bill in 1964, King felt it was merely a start. Racial conflicts continued to boil to the surface with riots breaking out in New York City and other areas. King continued to travel the world, including gaining a special audience with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican. In the fall of 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and he turned over the monetary award to various organizations fighting for racial equality, including the SCLC.

Even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans in southern states still faced challenges and ingrained racism and segregation. Voting rights was one area, and King and his supporters held a march in Selma, Alabama, and another from Selma to the capital at Montgomery to highlight the issue. Congress responded by passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which gave federal authorities the jurisdiction to end poll taxes and literacy tests and to monitor all elections.

Working in tandem with the SCLC, King launched a campaign in Chicago aimed at disseminating information and raising awareness of issues like urban poverty and discrimination. The institutional racism of the North, however, proved to be more impervious to King’s nonviolent confrontations. Discrimination was less overt than in the southern states and the politicians, particularly those in Chicago, were more adept at deflecting the allegations.

In 1967, King began to speak out in opposition to American involvement in Southeast Asia. He also began to lay the groundwork for a second March on Washington — this one called the Poor People’s Campaign — during which the poverty-stricken would descend on the U.S. capital and stage sit-ins, rallies, protests, and boycotts aimed at pressuring the administration and businesses to be more responsive to the needs of the indigent. While traveling around the country to raise support for this march, King accepted an invitation to speak in Memphis, Tennessee, where sanitation workers were striking for better working conditions. The initial protest in Memphis on March 28, however, devolved into violence when local gangs started a riot. King vowed to return to lead a peaceful demonstration. True to his word, he returned to the city in early April and was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.

While a student at Boston University, King met Coretta Scott, who was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. They married on June 18, 1953, and had four children.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, awarded by Jimmy Carter. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday honoring King. The initial observance of the holiday, the third Monday in January, was held in 1986, but it took some 14 years before all 50 states officially observed the holiday.

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Paul Elie and Jonathan Eig discuss the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Biographer Jonathan Eig and the Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

By: Ellie Knapman

April 17, 2024

Related Topics:

Religion in American Public Life icon

Georgetown welcomed acclaimed biographer Jonathan Eig for an April 3 conversation about his new book, King: A Life (2023), a biography of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that was awarded the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for biography. Moderated by Berkley Center Senior Fellow Paul Elie, the discussion focused on the book as well as Eig’s journey in writing it.

The event was part of the Faith and Culture Series , co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Office of the President.

Uncovering King’s Life

From the outset, Eig’s goal in writing was to center King within the story. Rather than writing about the Civil Rights Movement with King at the periphery, he strove to create an intimate portrait that connects the reader emotionally to King. “When we put someone up on a pedestal," Eig reflected, "we lose sight of flesh and blood.”

Highlighting live witnesses to King’s life was the central idea that inspired Eig to write the book.

“It was while I was talking to Dick Gregory. I just had this epiphany that there were still hundreds of people alive that knew King… and that I needed to travel the country interviewing as many of these people as I could.”

Eig not only spent six years speaking with over 200 people that knew King, but he also found tapes made by Martin's wife Coretta Scott King, accessed personal letters between President Lyndon B. Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, consulted writings from King’s personal biographer, and discovered an unpublished biography of King’s father.

Key to his research, though, were the hundreds of hours of audio tape secretly taken by the FBI. The irony of using audio obtained via government subterfuge was not lost on Eig, who believes that in a twisted way the audio meant to ruin King actually humanized him, as his frustrations were laid bare.

King as the Enemy

Another irony Eig pointed out was that the same federal government that treated King as the most dangerous man in America during his lifetime now honors him with a holiday. 

According to Eig, King’s ability to unite people was viewed as a threat that could upset the dynamics of power in the United States, and Hoover saw it as his job to preserve the status quo – one that included pervasive racism. But King had no interest in appeasing the powers that be, caring more about sticking to his morals than being politically correct.

In its efforts to protect the status quo from disruption, Eig argued, the government created the conditions necessary for King to become a target for assassination and bolstered the very people who opposed him.

A Christian and an Activist

Eig emphasized that King saw his activism as an extension of his ministry as a Christian pastor. His job was to save souls, and he felt frustration towards those religious people who dragged their feet and refused to act.

“You can’t really understand King without understanding his faith… and how he felt like the only way to really do what he wanted to do with his life, which was to kill Jim Crow, to fight for democracy, to bring his country and constitution into line with the words in the Bible, was from the pulpit.”

At the heart of his faith-fueled activism was the notion of nonviolence. Joining, and then coming to lead, the Montgomery Bus Boycott showed King the strength of a nonviolent approach, and in the book Eig demonstrated that for King nonviolence was a strategy which turned into a philosophy.

However, as important as the nonviolent approach was to King, it did not mean he was not radical in his work, and he argued that the soul of the country could not be saved until Americans collectively atoned for the sin of slavery.

Such aspects of King’s movement are often overlooked today in what Eig referred to as the “whitewashing of the Civil Rights Movement,” wherein people abuse King’s language because they are afraid of his core ideas. Eig used King’s incredibly moving, yet misunderstood “I Have a Dream” speech to illustrate this point. The first half of the speech—the radical section calling attention to police brutality, income inequality, and reparations—has largely been forgotten.

Responsibility to Make the World Better

In making a public figure like King widely accessible, we tend to focus solely on the aspects of the story that make us comfortable. Eig argues that is exactly what creating a holiday and monument dedicated to King have done. While that approach allows teachers to talk about race and civil rights in classrooms where such conversations can be limited, Eig hopes his work to humanize King will also help us grapple with more challenging themes.

Eig’s overarching goal in writing a biography was to capture King’s life and to do Martin and Coretta justice in sharing their story, yet the journey also taught Eig much about himself.

“I consider myself a person who believes we’re all children of God and we all have a responsibility to make the world better in whatever way we can. And it’s made me reflect on what I’m doing with my time and how I can be a part of that… we all have to do whatever we can. I feel that more seriously than before.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

the biography of martin luther king junior

  • Occupation: Civil Rights Leader
  • Born: January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA
  • Died: April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN
  • Best known for: Advancing the Civil Rights Movement and his "I Have a Dream" speech

the biography of martin luther king junior

  • King was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a national holiday.
  • At the Atlanta premier of the movie Gone with the Wind , Martin sang with his church choir.
  • There are over 730 streets in the United States named after Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • One of his main influences was Mohandas Gandhi who taught people to protest in a non-violent manner.
  • He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • The name on his original birth certificate is Michael King. This was a mistake, however. He was supposed to be named after his father who was named for Martin Luther, the leader of the Christian reformation movement.
  • He is often referred to by his initials MLK.
  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:
  • Civil Rights Timeline
  • African-American Civil Rights Timeline
  • Magna Carta
  • Bill of Rights
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Glossary and Terms

Turns Out Martin Luther King Jr. Didn’t Really Criticize Malcolm X

Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Eig sets the record straight about Martin Luther King Jr.’s oft-referenced criticism about fellow civil rights icon Malcolm X.

malcolm x and martin luther king jr

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King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

But it turns out King never said it. Jonathan Eig, the author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning biography King: A Life , discovered in his research that Alex Haley , the Roots author who conducted that famous Playboy interview, had misquoted King. In fact, King said while he disagreed with some of Malcolm’s methods, he was open-minded about the differences in their views.

King: A Life , the first major biography of the civil rights activist in 40 years, is based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of newly-discovered documents. Released in May 2023, it is the latest biography by Jonathan Eig , the author of New York Times bestsellers Ali: A Life , Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season , and Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig .

In a 2023 interview with, Eig shared how he discovered this misquotation, the historic reverberations it had, and how this new information should change our views of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was Martin Luther King Jr. widely believed to have said about Malcolm X before your recent discovery?

jonathan eig wearing a navy suit jacket and purple shirt, wearing glasses, smiling at the camera

In a Playboy magazine interview, which was the longest interview Dr. King ever conducted, he was asked what he thought about Malcolm X, and the reply as printed in Playboy was “In his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.” That was the quote as published and said to be spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. about Malcolm X, but that is not actually what Dr. King said.

So according to your research, what did King actually say about Malcolm X?

He was asked what he thought about the Nation of Islam, and in that question, he said he thought the fiery demagogic oratory in the black ghettos was doing harm, but he didn’t say that about Malcolm. When asked about Malcolm, he said he disagreed with many of his views, particularly in the use of violence, but he said ‘I don’t want to make it sound like my way is the only way.’ That’s a big, big difference.

I discovered this going through the original transcript for Alex Haley’s interview. I found it in his papers at Duke University in the Rubenstein Library, where many of Haley’s papers are kept. When I read the original transcript of what Dr. King said in the actual interview, I was shocked at how different it was from when it was actually published.

What are the historic reverberations of this misquotation, which has been repeated so widely and so often over the decades?

It’s been repeated, it’s been taught in classrooms, it’s in textbooks, and it suggests King and Malcolm X were adversaries and that King viewed Malcolm X skeptically, when really King was advocating open-mindedness. I think it’s important because much of the journalism world and others at the time were trying to create friction between Black leaders, and history has reinforced that in some way, because they have been portrayed as polar opposites when, in fact, they have had much more common ground than the media suggested.

What would be a more accurate way to describe King’s opinion of Malcolm X?

I think it’s safe to say that Martin Luther King Jr. deplored all violence and did not approve of Malcolm X’s threats of violence in accomplishing his goals, but at the same time, they shared a great interest in black dignity, black equality, in forcing white America to give up some of the power that it was hoarding. So those are the things they shared. And the most important part of this revelation, this new information, may be the fact that Dr. King was humble when asked about Malcolm X and said I don’t think I have all the answers, as if to say he felt that he could learn from Malcolm X.

For people who have heard that famous misquote over the years, how should this new revelation revise our view of both King and Malcolm X?

For those of us who are still thinking of Malcolm and King as rivals, as opposites, we need to rethink that. And plenty of scholars have explored this in recent years, most recently Peniel E. Joseph in his book The Sword and the Shield , but plenty of people even before that. James Baldwin wrote that before his death, King and Malcolm had more in common than they did apart. And I think that that’s what we need to be focused upon, looking at the history and that two of our greatest activists were fighting the same battle, not fighting each other.

Alex Haley is widely renowned for his works like Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X , but he has been accused of plagiarism, copyright infringement, and historical inaccuracies in the past. Does this misquote change your view of his legacy or how you feel others should view his work?

I’m not really concerned with Haley’s legacy, but I am concerned with his work and whether we can trust it. As someone who is writing history and relying on primary source material, you’d like to think a published interview is primary source material, but you have to question everything, and when it comes to Alex Haley you have to question everything with heightened scrutiny. I think the next step for scholars is to look at The Autobiography of Malcolm X [for which Haley collaborated with Malcolm], which there has already been some indication it is flawed, but I think it requires further scrutiny.

To me, the moral of the story is when you found a good interview that somebody did, it’s worth going back and checking the notes and the tapes. It’s something I’ve learned to do as a biographer in recent years. Any time someone gives a really good interview, I want to see what they left out and, in this case, what they changed.

What were some of the other biggest surprises about King that you discovered while working on this book?

There were a lot of surprises. I discovered that his plagiarism began in high school, for one thing: He entered and came in third place in a public speaking contest with a plagiarized speech. I was able to get ahold of recordings Coretta made just after her husband’s assassination, and they talked about their early years dating right up to the assassination. There were some really good details there, and just hearing her voice describe these things was very powerful. I discovered an unpublished biography of Martin Luther King Sr. There has been lots of archival material that was just recently discovered, not to mention FBI documents.

Headshot of Colin McEvoy

Colin McEvoy joined the staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy . He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.

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Martin Luther King Jr., the man behind the legend The Current

Jonathan Eig’s biography of Martin Luther King Jr. has won a Pulitzer Prize. Eig spoke to Matt Galloway last year about telling the story of a complicated man, from his incredible successes to his deep personal struggles.

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Celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the University Libraries

Black and white photograph of Martin Luther King Junior speaking with his hand raised. The backyard is a rust colored graphic with vector lines on top.

This year University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with the theme “The Time is Now.” To coincide with this celebration, the University Libraries has gathered this list of books, films and other materials to help you learn about King’s impact and engage with his ideals.

 E-books and Audiobooks 

Throughout January, the University Libraries’ Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. OverDrive collection will highlight dozens of books on topics related to King’s legacy. From King’s own Where Do We Go from Here to John Lewis’s co-authored graphic novel March , you can engage with the history and impact of King’s work and the movement he helped lead. 


The Media & Design Center has created a list of films about King and his legacy, which can be accessed via streaming, DVD or VHS. (The center can also provide devices to play physical media). Films include Selma , Tony Brown’s essay on Martin Luther King Jr. and In Remembrance of Martin . 

Selected Materials from the Wilson Special Collections Library 

Collections in Wilson Library contain materials related to Martin Luther King Jr., including MLK buttons, a vintage church hand fan bearing King’s image and recordings of King’s speeches. 

There are also some materials that you can access online. For example, have you ever wondered how the University reacted to news about the assassination of King? What happened at Carolina’s first MLK celebration in 1982? Blog posts from the University Archives take a look back at these moments in University history. 

Wilson Library also holds recordings featuring Dr. King. For example, you can hear him in a 1963 mass meeting along with Ralph Abernathy in this recording from the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection . King discusses the historical significance of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, the importance of perseverance and unity, and jailing of children and other participants in the civil rights movement, among other topics. 

The Carawan Collection also includes a press conference from the same year featuring King, Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth. The three address questions about the details of negotiations between leaders of the civil rights movement and business leaders and public officials, as well as specific developments in the civil rights movement in the preceding weeks. ( Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3.)  

This collection of resources was first published in January of 2023. It was updated in January 2024.  

the biography of martin luther king junior

Chicago author Jonathan Eig wins Pulitzer Prize for book on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago author Jonathan Eig was awarded a 2024 Pulitzer Prize at Columbia University in New York City Monday.

He was honored with the award for his biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., titled "King: A Life."

Eig wrote about a persistent social problem in the book: "But in allowing King, we have hollowed him—from Montgomery to Chicago along those streets named Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Highway, poverty and segregation rates remain much higher than local and national averages."

Dwight Garner of the New York Times  called "King: A Life" the "new definitive biography" – and also called the book "supple, penetrating, heartstring-pulling, and compulsively readable."  Mark Whitaker of the Washington Post  said the volume was "infused the narrative energy of a thriller."

Did Eig know he was writing a "new definitive biography" for Dr. King? Actually, he said he did.

"I knew how important it was to tell King's story, and I knew how relevant it was to the world we're living in today," said Eig, "because look what's happening to us. We're still fighting over racism."

Eig spent six years – including an entire pandemic – in the laundry room writing. He was buried in unfolded clothes as he unearthed transformative firsts about Dr. King – many via newly released government documents. The book reveals, and it debunks.

Eig was one of two winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in arts and letters. The Pulitzer committee said Eig's book enriches our understanding of each stage of Dr. King's life.

Author Ilyon Woo, also got a Biography award for her book, "Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Prison."

Invisible Institute wins prizes for podcast, investigation

Meanwhile, the Invisible Institute, a 12-person nonprofit newsroom based on Chicago's South Side, won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Audio Reporting and Local Reporting.

The Invisible Institute won the Audio Reporting award for its "You Didn't See Nothin" podcast. The podcast, as described in a news release, follows host Yohance Lacour as he looks back at the racially-motivated attack on a Black teen by Lenard Clark by a group of older white teens in the Bridgeport neighborhood in 1997.

The Local Reporting award for "Missing in Chicago," a two-year investigation into the handling of missing persons cases by Chicago Police, and disproportionate impact of the missing persons crisis on Black women and girls. The award went to Trina Reynolds-Tyler of the Invisible Institute, and Sarah Conway of City Bureau.

Chicago author Jonathan Eig wins Pulitzer Prize for book on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


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  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. (born January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.—died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee) 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. His leadership was fundamental to that movement's success in ending the ...

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  3. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister, activist, and political philosopher who was one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. A black church leader and a son of early civil rights activist and minister Martin Luther King Sr., King advanced civil rights ...

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    Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of Martin Luther King Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher.

  5. The New Definitive Biography of Martin Luther King Jr

    "Martin Luther King Jr., dressed as a young slave, sat in the choir's first row, singing along," Eig writes. King was a sensitive child. When things upset him, he twice tried to commit ...

  6. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: His Life and Legacy

    Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist and Baptist minister who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. Explore his life ...

  7. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America's pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest ...

  8. Biography of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr.

    The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was the charismatic leader of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He directed the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, which attracted scrutiny by a wary, divided nation, but his leadership and the resulting Supreme Court ruling against bus segregation ...

  9. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-68

    Minister and social activist Martin Luther King, Jr., was the preeminent leader of the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. His guidance was fundamental to the movement's success in ending the legal segregation of Black Americans in the South and other parts of the United States. He rose to national prominence as a leader of the Montgomery bus ...

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    January 12, 2023. • 9 min read. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is a civil rights legend. In the mid-1950s, King led the movement to end segregation and counter prejudice in the United ...

  11. Introduction

    Introduction. Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social ...

  12. The life of Martin Luther King Jr.

    King was born Michael Luther King in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929 — one of the three children of Martin Luther King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta (Williams) King, a former schoolteacher. (He was renamed "Martin" when he was about 6 years old.) After going to local grammar and high schools, King enrolled in Morehouse College ...

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    A hero is born. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. At the time in that part of the country, segregation—or the separation of races in places like schools, buses, and restaurants—was the law. He experienced racial predjudice from the time he was very young, which inspired him to dedicate his life to achieving ...

  14. A new biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. explores the activist's life

    Jonathan Eig's new biography examines the life of Martin Luther King Jr. King:A Life, the new biography by Jonathan Eig, provides a fresh perspective into the life of one of America's most ...

  15. Home

    Martin Luther King Jr. lived an extraordinary life. At 33, he was pressing the case of civil rights with President John Kennedy. At 34, he galvanized the nation with his "I Have a Dream" speech. At 35, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. At 39, he was assassinated, but he left a legacy of hope and inspiration that continues today.

  16. The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

    On the morning of April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. readied to head to Memphis, Tennessee, for the third time in as many weeks in support of the city's striking sanitation workers. The first ...

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    Baptist minister and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. His murder led to an outpouring of anger among Black ...

  18. Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American clergyman and civil rights movement leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. CST.He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died at 7:05 p.m.He was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence and civil ...

  19. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cataloguing and Electronic Finding Aid

    BIOGRAPHY OF DR. KING. A national figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) rose to fame with his advocacy of nonviolence as a means to effect social change. From 1955 when he emerged as a leader during the Montgomery Bus Boycott until his assassination in 1968, he was both admired and reviled in his crusade ...

  20. Biographer Jonathan Eig and the Life of Martin Luther King Jr

    Georgetown welcomed acclaimed biographer Jonathan Eig for an April 3 conversation about his new book, King: A Life (2023), a biography of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that was awarded the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for biography. Moderated by Berkley Center Senior Fellow Paul Elie, the discussion focused on the book as well as Eig's journey in writing it.

  21. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement

    Martin Luther King, Jr., (born Jan. 15, 1929, Atlanta, Ga., U.S.—died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tenn.), U.S. civil rights leader. The son and grandson of Baptist preachers, King became an adherent of nonviolence while in college. Ordained a Baptist minister himself in 1954, he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Ala.; the following year he received a doctorate from Boston University.

  22. Kid's Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s. He led non-violent protests to fight for the rights of all people including African Americans. He hoped that America and the world could form a society where race would not impact a person's civil rights. He is considered one of the great orators of modern ...

  23. MLK Biographer: King Never Said Quote Criticizing Malcolm X

    Martin Luther King Jr.'s oft-referenced criticism of Malcolm X in a 1965 "Playboy" interview was based on a misquotation, per the new biography "King: A Life."

  24. ‎The Current: Martin Luther King Jr., the man behind the legend on

    Jonathan Eig's biography of Martin Luther King Jr. has won a Pulitzer Prize. Eig spoke to Matt Galloway last year about telling the story of a complicated man, from his incredible successes to his deep personal struggles. ‎Show The Current, Ep Martin Luther King Jr., the man behind the legend - 9 May 2024 ...

  25. Celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the University

    E-books and Audiobooks . Throughout January, the University Libraries' Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. OverDrive collection will highlight dozens of books on topics related to King's legacy. From King's own Where Do We Go from Here to John Lewis's co-authored graphic novel March, you can engage with the history and impact of King's work and the movement he helped lead.

  26. Passage of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

    A United States federal statute honoring the Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and his work in the civil rights movement with a federal holiday was enacted by the 98th United States Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 2, 1983, creating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.The final vote in the House of Representatives on August 2, 1983, was 338-90 (242-4 in the House ...

  27. Chicago author Jonathan Eig wins Pulitzer Prize for book on Dr. Martin

    He was honored with the award for his biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., titled "King: A Life." Eig wrote about a persistent social problem in the book: "But in allowing King, we have ...

  28. Martin Luther King

    Martin Luther King Jr. [Nota 1] (cuyo nombre de pila era Michael King Jr.; Atlanta, Georgia; 15 de enero de 1929-Memphis, Tennessee; 4 de abril de 1968) fue un ministro y activista bautista estadounidense que se convirtió en el vocero y líder más visible del movimiento de derechos civiles desde 1955 hasta su asesinato en 1968. Líder de la iglesia afroestadounidense e hijo del primer ...