Editor’s Note: January marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and February was Black History Month. But there are no special times of the year to honor the rich legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freeline Media writer Dave Raith looks back at that legacy and how it impacted our nation’s history.
Role model, pastor, civil rights hero … all words which describe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King is a name recognized by so many, due to the astounding impact he had on the fight against racial segregation and discrimination. He was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and his literary prowess was made evident the world over due to his “I Have A Dream” speech. Even today, Dr. King remains a monumental building block in the expansion of racial equality.
Jan. 15, 1929 is a date long remembered by followers of Dr. King. Born in Atlanta, Ga., he was the middle child of Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. His birth was preceded by a sister, Willie Christine King, and followed by a brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.
Dr. King attended high school at Booker T. Washington High in Atlanta, and he excelled there, surpassing both the ninth and 12th grade. He entered Morehouse College at the young age of 15, without formally graduating from high school. Dr. King went on to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology, and he subsequently obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree. In 1954, King began doctoral studies in systematic theology, receiving his Doctorate of Philosophy on June 5, 1955, from Boston University.
Dr. King involved himself in a lot of controversial movements and campaigns during his pursuit for racial equality. One such instance occurred in 1955 — the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott. This tense racial campaign began when a 15-year-old girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger. Due to extenuating circumstances, her case went unchallenged. However, on Dec. 1, 1955, the same injustice occurred to Rosa Parks, and soon thereafter was the birth of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Dr. King.
During the boycott, which lasted for 385 days, Dr. King’s house was bombed and he was arrested, making him a martyr in the war against segregation. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Browder vs. Gayle, ending segregation on all Montgomery public buses. This is only one of many influential campaigns led by Dr. King which forever changed the future of racial equality.
“ … I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve seen the promised land.”
April 4, 1968 will be forever remembered as a terrible loss to the world and to the civil rights movement. At 6:01 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m. Dr. King’s assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in dozens of cities, including Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore. An escaped convict by the name of James Earl Ray was captured and charged with Dr. King’s murder within two months of the assassination. Although there were numerous allegations of conspiracy, Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison – effectively a life term.
To say that Dr. King left behind a legacy would be a gross understatement. Dr. King built a legacy. He was highly influential in securing the progress of civil rights in America. But he also had a huge impact on international movements with regard to racial justice. After Dr. King’s death, his wife Coretta Scott King took her husband’s lead and became active in fighting for social justice and civil rights, carrying on his legacy until her death in 2006. One such example was the establishment of the King Center in Atlanta, further preserving his legacy and his life’s work of peaceable conflict resolution. Dr. King spearheaded many civil rights movements throughout his life, and we reap the fruits of his labor still to this day.
“… I’d like somebody to mention … that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. … Say I was a drum major for justice. Say I was a drum major for peace. Say I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” From Dr. King’s “Drum Major’ sermon, given on Feb. 4, 1968, at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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