Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor and civil rights leader, later he became the spokesperson for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15th, 1929 to Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. His love for the Christian faith was fostered in a black Baptist understanding. He was named Times “Man of the Year” in 1963 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, as well as being the only American with a national holiday in to his name. King’s practice and idealology radically transformed America’s understanding of race and inspired a liberation movement around the world. His first negative experience with racial segregation was at the age of five when a white friend’s father told him that his son was no longer allowed to play with him due to his skin color. During his childhood, due to his personal experiences, he was determined to hate all whites. This attitude changed through the influence of education, positive experience with moderate whites, and most importantly with a greater understanding of religion. This, he experienced while studying at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and at Boston University School of theology. While studying he encountered Henry David Thoreau’s “Essay on Civil Disobedience”. In graduate school, essays and books from Mahatma Ghandi greatly influenced his nonviolent tenets. A year prior to earning a doctoral degree, King became a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was here where he was thrown to the front of the bus boycott initiated by Rosa Parks on December 1st, 1955.
He was an advocate of nonviolent resistance, starting with the triumph of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 in Alabama. Nonviolence was at the heart of his philosophy of life and proved to be an effective strategy of social change in America. He contended that nonviolence was the most potent and effective tool for, not only blacks, but for any oppressed people struggling for justice. Interestingly, his studies had not completely given him the nonviolent belief. Immediately following the bus boycotts in Alabama. He and his family were harassed by white police and supremacists. His house was bombed and he received hate calls and hate mail. In order to defend himself, the Reverend acquired a gun permit. Armed blacks guarded his home to protect his family. However, his nonviolent perspective was nurtured with his devotion to the Church, backed by his parents. The threats to his life and his family’s lives were frighteningly never ending which made him consider leaving as the head of the bus boycott. He sought advice from his parents and the Church. King is recalled at one time saying, “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I’m afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter.
I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” After much reflection, he felt a voice from within encouraging him to stand for what is right, reinvigorating his devotion to the bus boycott, and to the larger black liberation movement. After another bombing of his house, in an unmatched calmness he was inspired to say, “We can’t solve this problem through retaliatory violence… We must meet violence with nonviolence… Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you. We must love our white brothers… no matter what they do to us.” Using Christian doctrines, he sold his message by aligning their cause with a divine power; their cause was greater than the forces of white supremacy. He drew upon his collegiate studies, especially from his readings of Gandhi who used love as a political instrument of social change by administering nonviolent direct action. King used Jesus’ philosophies and Ghandi’s actions as an instrument of social change. Solidifying his nonviolent zeal, he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
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Robert Kelly, Erin Cook. “Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X: A Common Solution.” OAH Magazine of History (Organization of American Historians) 19, no. 1, Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 2005): 37-40
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