Pastor, Scholar, Activist
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born into a family of Baptist ministers. Martin Luther King Sr., his father, was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a position the elder King had inherited from his wife's father, Adam Daniel Williams. As the son of a pastor growing up among the black middle class, the young King was afforded some opportunities for education and experience not available to children in poorer urban and rural areas. Yet despite his social standing, he was still subjected to the lessons of segregation because of his color. Although his family tradition was intertwined with the church and expectations were high that "M. L." would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, King first resisted the ministry as a vocation, finding it ill-suited to allow him to address the social problems he had experienced in the South. So, after completing high school early, he entered nearby Morehouse College in 1944 with thoughts of becoming a lawyer or doctor. Later, influenced by the teachings of George D. Kelsey, a religion professor, and Dr. Benjamin Mays, the college's president, King came to understand the social and intellectual tradition of the ministry. By graduation in 1948, he had decided to accept it as his vocation.
Dr. King grew up in, for the time, an affluent Black family in Atlanta, GA. His mother was a teacher, and his father a pastor. Dr. King learned to read before he entered school. While the starting school age for children was six, his parents attempted to enroll him at the age of five. Highly intelligent, Dr. King did not finish high school. In fact, he skipped his first and last years at Booker T. Washington High School, going directly into college before completing his junior year at the age of 15.
Dr. King attended and graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. In an article on the webpage, http://drmartinlutherking.net/martin-luther-king-education, it states that Morehouse is where Dr. King was exposed to and inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, especially the essay on Civil Disobedience. This was, perhaps, the very thing that would set course for his life that has changed the landscape of our society.
Dr. King later felt a calling to ministry. He used the church platform to begin a journey to equality. He made his first public speech at the age of 17 from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was ordained and served as co-pastor with his father until Dr. King's assassination in 1968.
In 1948, Dr. King attended his first integrated school, Crozer Theological Seminary (PA). Inspired by the teachings of many past leaders from his studies, it is here where he was first exposed to Mahatma Gandhi's reflective teachings. In addition, King studied theology, philosophy, ethics, the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch, and the religious and social views of Reinhold Niebuhr. Dr. King excelled as a student, highly respected by his professors and classmates, as well as serving as student body president. He could have gone to for doctoral study at Yale University (MA) and Edinburgh in Scotland. However, he chose to attend Boston University, studying systematic theology with renowned professors, Edgar Sheffield Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf. Dr. King would complete his doctoral studies with a dissertation comparing the religious views of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
Civil Rights Activist
Unbeknownst to many, Dr. King did not begin the Civil Rights Movement. However, he did lead the way. It began on December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. The Montgomery law required segregated seating on city buses. It was enough to spur Blacks to act as they had grown weary in their treatment on public transportation. Leaders and organizations in the Black community organized a boycott of the city buses, which would last 382 days. Out of this boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed to oversee community action and to work with the city and the bus-line officials to bring about fairer treatment of Blacks. Dr. King was elected as MIA's first president. Momentum was gaining and continuing to spread across the south. This lead to the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. Dr. King served as its president for several years.
From 1960 to 1962, Dr. King and the SCLC would continue their pursuits against segregation at the voting booth, schools, lunch counters and bus stations, supporting the efforts of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Freedom Rides led by the Council on Racial Equity (CORE) challenging interstate bus segregation and retail establishments.
Dr. King would have as many failures as successes in his efforts, yet he was not deterred. On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 Blacks and whites marched on Washington, DC to raise the nation's awareness of civil rights and encourage the passing of the Civil Rights Bill. Joining Dr. King's efforts were other organizations, including the Negro America Labor Council, the Urban League, the SCLC, NAACP, SNCC and CORE. This was the movements largest, organized demonstration, at which Dr. King would deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" address.
"Martin Luther King, Jr." Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 1, Gale, 1992. Gale In Context: Biography, link.gale.com/apps/doc/K1606000767/BIC?u=lincclin_vcc&sid=BIC&xid=e0d4d042. Accessed 7 Jan. 2021