Martin Luther King, Jr. Part I1929-1968
A Great LeaderDecember 1, 1955, had been a long day of hard work for Rosa Parks. She was dead tired and her feet hurt. So, when the Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white passenger, Mrs. Parks refused and was immediately arrested for disobeying the city's segregation law. Thus began the massive Civil Rights movement that changed the face and future of the United States. It also introduced to the world an eloquent and inspirational black minister from Atlanta, Georgia, named Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was born on January 15, 1929, the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta (which he entered at age 15), he studied for the ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary, Chester, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with the highest average in his class. Later he attended Boston University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1955. It was also in Boston that King met Coretta Scott, a music student from Alabama, whom he married in 1953. They had four children.
On that historic day in 1955, King was serving as pastor of Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. After the arrest of Mrs. Parks, black Civil Rights advocates decided to force the desegregation of the city's bus system, and they asked King to lead them. King quietly agreed, saying to them, "We have no alternative but to protest."
And protest they did. It took more than a year of work, and they were forced to endure physical and spiritual abuse, arrests, threats, and bombings before the city buses were desegregated. And in the process the small, struggling Civil Rights movement had acquired a dynamic leader. From that moment, King, who was a firm believer in non-violent resistance, began traveling around the country and abroad, preaching freedom, civil rights, and desegregation. Slowly and painfully, his efforts began to arouse the conscience of blacks and whites all over the country.
In 1963, while King and his followers were demonstrating in Birmingham, Alabama, an unbelieving nation watched on television as fire hoses and dogs were turned against the demonstrators. Later, from his Birmingham jail cell, King wrote that the issue "can no longer be ignored .... Freedom must be demanded by the oppressed." It would take more years, and many more tragedies, before real progress could be made, but the young black preacher from Atlanta was right: the issue could no longer be ignored.
Illustration: Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago, September, 1967
© 1979. Panarizon Publishing Corp. USA Photo: Black Star
Printed in Italy 03-012-01-22