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In 1963, Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as "I Have a Dream". In the speech's most famous passage—in which he departed from his prepared text, possibly at the prompting of Mahalia Jackson, who shouted behind him, "Tell them about the dream!"—King among others said:I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
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.
I have a dream today.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) was an American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
He was born Michael King, but his father changed his name in honor of German reformer Martin Luther. A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. With the SCLC, King led an unsuccessful struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, in 1962, and organized nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama, that attracted national attention following television news coverage of the brutal police response. King also helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his I Have a Dream speech. There, he established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history. He also established his reputation as a radical, and became an object of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's COINTELPRO (Counter Inteligence Program) for the rest of his life. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter that he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. In 1965, he and the SCLC helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches and the following year, he took the movement north to Chicago. In the final years of his life, King expanded his focus to include poverty and the Vietnam War, alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled Beyond Vietnam. In 1968 King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 this year, in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting, and the jury of a 1999 civil trial found Loyd Jowers to be complicit in a conspiracy against King.
King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets and a county in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor. A memorial statue on the National Mall was opened to the public in 2011.
Early life and education
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades and entered Morehouse College at age fifteen without formally graduating from high school. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree in 1951. King married Coretta Scott in 1953 and they became the parents of four children.
King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old, in 1954. King then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree in 1955.
As a Christian minister, Martin Luther King's main influence was Jesus Christ and the Christian gospels, which he would almost always quote in his religious meetings, speeches at church, and in public discourses. King's faith was strongly based in Jesus' commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God above all, and loving your enemies, praying for them and blessing them. His non-violent thought was also based on Jesus' teachings to "turn the other cheek" and of "putting the sword back into its place".
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, King had wanted for a long time to take a trip to India and he was able to make the journey in April 1959. The trip to India affected King, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America's struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity".
King stated that black Americans, as well as other disadvantaged Americans, should be compensated for historical wrongs. In an interview conducted for Playboy in 1965, he said that granting black Americans only equality could not realistically close the economic gap between them and whites. King said that he did not seek a full restitution of wages lost to slavery, which he believed impossible, but proposed a government compensatory program of $50 billion over ten years to all disadvantaged groups.
In October 1956 he said that he was undecided as to whether he would vote for Adlai Stevenson (Democratic presidential candidate) or Dwight Eisenhower (Republican presidential candidate), but that "In the past I always voted the Democratic ticket."
In his autobiography, King says that in 1960 he privately voted for Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy: "I felt that Kennedy would make the best president. I never came out with an endorsement. My father did, but I never made one." King adds that he likely would have made an exception to his non-endorsement policy for a second Kennedy term, saying "Had President Kennedy lived, I would probably have endorsed him in 1964."
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested, in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in compliance with the laws in the US South that enforced racial segregation. The Montgomery Bus Boycott led by King, soon followed. The boycott lasted for 385 days, and the situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.
On September 20, 1958, while signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in Blumstein's department store in Harlem, King narrowly escaped death when Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists, stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. After emergency surgery, King was hospitalized for several weeks, while Curry was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Throughout his participation in the civil rights movement, King was criticized by many groups. This included opposition by more militant blacks that disagreed with King's plea for racial integration because they considered it an insult to a uniquely African-American culture. Others urged Africans to remember the history of violent European colonization and how power was not secured by Europeans through integration, but by violence and force.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It took place in Washington, D.C..Thousands of Americans headed to Washington on Tuesday August 27, 1963. On Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony and called for an end to racism in the United States. Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black. The march is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and motivating the Selma to Montgomery marches which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965).
"I Have a Dream" was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement and came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
King received death threats constantly due to his prominence in the civil rights movement. As a consequence of these threats, he confronted death constantly, making it a central part of his philosophy. He believed, and taught that murder could not stop the struggle for equal rights. After the 1963 JFK assassination, he told his wife Coretta: "This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society."
On March 29, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.
King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
At 6:01 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, 1968, while he was standing on the motel's second floor balcony, King was struck by a single bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster.
King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed Cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. at age 39.
The King assassination riots, also known as the Holy Week Uprising, was a wave of civil disturbance which swept the United States following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of the biggest riots took place in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and Chicago.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took responsibility for investigating King's death. J. Edgar Hoover (FBI director), who had previously made efforts to undermine King's reputation, told president Johnson that his agency would attempt to find the culprits. Many documents pertaining to this investigation remained classified, and are slated to remain secret until 2027.
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral two days later, on April 9.
Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom for Angola, Rhodesia or South Africa on a false Canadian passport. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969. Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty. Ray was sentenced to a 99-year prison term.
In December 1993, Loyd Jowers appeared on ABC's Prime Time Live and related the details of an alleged conspiracy involving the Mafia and the U.S. government to kill King. According to Jowers, James Earl Ray was a scapegoat, and not involved in the assassination. Jowers believed that Memphis police officer Lieutenant Earl Clark fired the fatal shot.
In 1999, the King family conducted a civil case to consider the existence of an assassination conspiracy. The suit mentioned only Loyd Jowers by name, but also alleged government involvement. The jury–six blacks and six whites—found that King had been the victim of assassination by a conspiracy involving the Memphis police as well as federal agencies. This verdict affirmed Ray's innocence, which the King family has always maintained. The family requested a mere $100 in restitution to show that they were not pursuing the case for financial gain.
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