Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant and sensitive boy aware of the suffering and inequality around him. He was taught to read by his mother before the age of five. King was so advanced that he skipped his first year of high school, and went directly to college after his junior year, at the age of 15.
King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta where he graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. At Morehouse College, King was exposed to Henry David Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience. It helped convince King that individuals had, not only a right, but, also, an obligation to oppose unjust laws. It wasn’t his intention to follow his father’s footsteps, but at the age of 19 King was ordained and became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. There he used the family pulpit to begin preaching social change.
He then attended his first integrated school, Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester, Pennsylvania. There, he earned a Bachelor of Divinity Degree, and was elected president in his third year by his majority white classmates. Crozer was known for it’s liberal theological leanings and nondenominational approach to education. King was introduced to many inspirational leaders and philosophies, including the practice of pacifism. King was not convinced by the “do-nothing approach” of pacifism and believed that social change required action. When he learned about Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism, which won the oppressed people of India their independence from the tyrannical British Empire in 1947, he found the method of social reform he had been seeking.
In 1951, King graduated as Valedictorian from Crozer and went on to Boston University, where he earned his PhD in Theology in 1955. There, he met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who would be his greatest supporter, and the mother of his four activist children.
Background re: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, and the most recognized leader of the American Civil Rights Movement until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Throughout his adult life he championed nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as means of protest toward Civil Rights abuses, primarily of African American Citizens. His influence using these techniques carried over to poverty, segregated housing, and Vietnam war issues, and resulted in being arrested multiple times. He was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), organizing it, and unsuccessfully engaging it in a struggle against segregation in 1962 in Albany, GA. He helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, and reported on them to government officials. On one occasion King was mailed a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.