Martin Luther King, Jr’s father was a minister. He attended Booker T. Washington High School, and went to Morehouse College aged 15 to study Sociology.
In 1948, King graduated from Morehouse with a degree in sociology. He enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He also received a PhD in systematic theology at Boston University.
In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.
In 1954, Martin Luther King accepted the pastorale of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a supporter for civil rights for members of his race, Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement and became leader of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People - the organisation responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The boycott came about in 1955 after Rosa Parks, a middle-aged tailor's assistant, who was tired after a hard day's work, refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in the southern town. She was promptly arrested for her actions.
As a result King and his friends helped to organise protests against bus segregation. It was decided that black people in Montgomery would refuse to use the buses until passengers were completely integrated. King was arrested, and his house was fire-bombed for his actions. For the next 13 months the black people in Montgomery walked to work or obtained lifts from the small car-owning black population of the city. Eventually, the loss of revenue and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court forced the Montgomery Bus Company to accept integration. The boycott came to an end on 20th December, 1956.
Dr. King was also a founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, formed to co-ordinate protests against discrimination.
His numerous lectures and remarks, and the movements and marches he led, brought significant changes in the direction of 13 years of civil rights activities; his charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, within the nation and abroad.
His philosophy was non-violent direct action: although this stance was controversial within the Civil Rights movement, it was often successful. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, went to Congress as a result of the Selma to Montgomery march. Dr. King always stressed the importance of the ballot. He argued that once all African Americans had the vote they would become an important political force.
In 1963, King led mass protests against discriminatory practices in Birmingham, Alabama where the white population were violently resisting desegregation. The city was dubbed 'Bombingham' as attacks against civil rights protesters increased, and King was arrested and jailed for his part in the protests.
After his release, King participated in the enormous civil rights march on Washington in August 1963, and delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech, predicting a day when the promise of freedom and equality for all would become a reality in America.
Dr. King's speech at the Washington march, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize (he was the youngest ever recipient), his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final speech in Memphis ("I've Been to the Mountaintop...") are among his most famous utterances. His letter from Birmingham Jail ranks among the most important American documents.
The FBI had begun wiretapping King in 1961, fearing that Communist spies were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement. When no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over six years in attempts to force King out of the eminent leadership position.
Dr. King was shot in April 1968, at a motel where he was trying to mediate a garbage workers' strike. James Earl Ray was convicted of the murder, but he has always declared his innocence, suggesting a conspiracy and government cover-up.