Young King grew up in Atlanta. He skipped his freshman and senior years in high school, entering Morehouse College at age 15. He graduated from Morehouse in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, and entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he earned his Bachelor of Divinty degree in 1951.
King married Coretta Scott in June of 1953, became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954, and continued his doctoral studies receiving a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in June of 1955. The Kings had four children: Yolanda, Martin, Dexter and Bernice.
The year 1955 was a turning point for Dr. King, as well as for all African-American people in the United States. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montogomery. Edgar Nixon, union organizer and civil rights leader, worked with Dr. King to plan and lead the Montogomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted 385 days, during which time King’s home was bombed. King was arrested, but the ordeal resulted in a U.S. District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, serving as its first president. In 1959, Dr. King visited Gandhi in India. This trip made a lasting impact on King, who was impressed with Gandhi’s success with non-violent resistance. The visit also strengthened his commitment to the civil rights movement.
King worked with several other Civil Rights leaders and activists to organize what was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963. This event was to take place at the Lincoln Memorial. On the morning of August 28, only 50 people were on the monument grounds. The Washington police force was 2,900 officers strong, anticipating trouble. Another 1,000 police officers from neighboring cities were also poised. The police were never needed.
Within two hours the crowd was huge, and by the end of the day the crowd was estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 African-Americans and people of every ethnic background, including many actors and about 300 Congressional representatives. This event is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Major television networks interrupted regular programming to bring this speech live to viewers.
The nation witnessed this historical march of peaceful protest, which paved the way for many significant changes in the civil rights movement, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment, protection of civil rights workers from police brutality, and a $2 minimum wage for all workers. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”speech is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Infamy Speech, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
Following are excerpts from this historic speech:
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“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.”
“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”
“Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”