Martin Luther King Jr.: Standing Up for Justice

By Anderson, Amy | Success, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Martin Luther King Jr.: Standing Up for Justice


Anderson, Amy, Success


Martin Luther King Jr. didn't graduate from high school. He skipped the ninth and the 12th grades and went on to Morehouse College at 15. While at college, King met regularly with civil rights leader, theologian and teacher Howard Thurman, who had attended Morehouse with King's father. In his travels, Thurman conferred with world leaders, including Mohandas Gandhi. In their meeting, Gandhi expressed his belief to Thurman that African-Americans might have the opportunity to spread the message of nonviolence throughout the world. His message was heard loud and clear, thanks to a young boy from Atlanta.

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After King graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology, he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 1955, he received his Doctor of Philosophy from Boston University. While finishing his doctorate, he married Coretta Scott on the lawn of her parents' home. The Kings' family grew to eventually include four children.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, out where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

It didn't take King long to step into a leadership role in the civil rights movement. One year after becoming pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. A few months after 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and comply with the Jim Crow laws of the South, an African-American woman named Rosa Parks took the same stand. Parks was arrested, and King led a boycott of the bus line that lasted 385 days. During the boycott, King's house was bombed and he was arrested. But the nonviolent protest worked: The United States Supreme Court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that racial segregation must cease on all Montgomery public buses.

"Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus."

In 1957, King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization of civil rights activists and African-American churches. The SCLC carried out nonviolent protests that were widely publicized in print and on television, effectively raising the importance of the civil rights movement to the forefront of American public opinion. King led marches for voting rights, labor rights and desegregation, sometimes facing violent resistance from authorities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were triumphs for the SCLC and King.

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"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."

In 1958, King was signing copies of his first book Strive Toward Freedom in Harlem, when a woman approached him and stabbed him in the chest. X-rays showed that the blade was on the edge of his aorta. The next morning, a story in The New York Times stated that had King so much as sneezed, he would have died. …

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