This Day in History… January 15, 1929

Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.

U.S. #1771 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was first celebrated as a federal holiday on January 20, 1986.

Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The middle child of a Baptist minister, he was born Michael King, Jr.  In 1931, his father succeeded his grandfather as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  It was at this time that his father changed his name to Martin, in honor of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther.  Michael Jr. eventually adopted this name change as well.

Item #M8770 pictures King, Kennedy, and Clinton.

King was a bright child, skipping two grades as a student at Booker T. Washington High School.  He entered Morehouse College in Atlanta when he was just 15.  Perhaps because of his young age, King was an unmotivated student during his first two years in college.  He questioned religion and seriously considered not joining the ministry.  Then, in is his junior year, King took a Bible class that renewed his faith and set him on the path to become a minister.

After graduating from Morehouse in 1948 with a degree in sociology, King attended the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  He was a model scholar, elected student body president, and was valedictorian of his graduating class.  King went on to earn his doctorate at Boston University, where he met his wife, Coretta Scott.  By the time he was 25, King earned his Ph.D. and was serving as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Item #M10322 pictures King during some pivotal moments in his life.

It was in Montgomery, in December 1955, that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.  After she was arrested that night, King met with E.D. Nixon, head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter, as well as other local civil rights leaders, to coordinate a bus boycott.  King was young, well-trained, and new to the community, so he didn’t have many enemies.  As such, he was selected to lead the boycott, providing a voice for the civil rights movement.  King inspired the protesters to withstand the harassment that followed in the coming months.  During the protest, King’s home was among several that were attacked.  After more than a year, their efforts helped push the city to end its segregation of public transportation.

U.S. #3188a – King largely improvised the stirring ending of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Following that victory, King and a group of 60 ministers and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.).  They united black churches and encouraged them to hold nonviolent protests for civil rights reform.  And in 1960, King met with the students who had held a sit-in at a North Carolina university, protesting segregated lunch counters.  He encouraged them to continue to use nonviolent means, eventually leading to the desegregation of lunch counters in 27 Southern cities.

King led one of his most famous demonstrations in August 1963 – the March on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.   The march, and King’s eloquent speech, brought national attention to the movement and was a major stepping stone in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this accomplishment.

Item #M10321 – King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech forms the portrait of him on the selvage of this sheet.

Though King wasn’t part of the first Selma March, which turned violent, he helped plan one two days later.  Under his guidance, 2,500 protesters marched to a police barricade, knelt in prayer, and turned back.  Again, King’s peaceful protest sparked national attention and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed shortly after.

Item # CNM11445 pictures King and his wife on the front with the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change on the back.

In the coming years, King continued this quest for change through nonviolence, but a younger faction of militant activists arose that believed his efforts were too weak to make change.  On April 4, 1968, King was shot by an assassin on his hotel balcony.  King’s death sent shockwaves across the nation.

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