Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father, Martin Luther King Sr. also born Michael, was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and a civil rights leader in the early stage of the movement. In 1934, his father attended Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress at Berlin and came to know about German reformer Martin Luther. Thereafter, he changed both their names from Michael to Martin Luther.
In 1944, Dr. King graduated from school, skipping both ninth and 12th grades and entered Morehouse College at the age of 15. Subsequently, he received his Bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1948 and entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania for his theological training. King received his degree in Bachelor of Divinity on May 8, 1951. He then won a fellowship and joined Boston University for his doctoral studies in systematic theology, completing his residence in 1953 and subsequently his Ph.D. on June 5, 1955.
Dr. King’s first major campaign, Montgomery Bus Boycott, was staged in 1955-56. It involved a total boycott of the public buses by the Black community and resulted in desegregation of the town’s public transport system.
According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.
In 1957, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established, and King was elected its President. On May 17, 1957, SCLC organized a large nonviolent demonstration, which they called ‘Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.’ The meeting was held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where King have his first national speech ‘Give Us the Ballot.’
In 1959, King traveled to India, where he visited Mahatma Gandhi’s place. The trip had a huge impact on him, and he became more committed to nonviolence. While in India engaging with a group of African youth studying there, King made the following point about the difference between passive resistance and non-resistance: “True non-violent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.”
On April 12, Dr. King along with others was arrested and put in Birmingham jail, where he had to put up with unusually harsh conditions. During his incarceration at the Birmingham jail, he came across a newspaper in which white clergymen had criticized his actions and called for white unity. It is believed that in retaliation, Dr. King wrote an open letter from jail. In it, he mentioned ‘Why We Cannot Wait’. The letter later became famous as ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail.’
In 1965, Dr. King traveled to Jamaica and concentrated on writing his last book, ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’ While there, King spoke with young people, saying in one speech: “The time is always right to do right. Whenever a new nation comes into history, it brings with it new challenges and new responsibilities. The great challenge facing all of us today — is to somehow stand before the opportunities of the moment and face the challenges of the hour with creativity and with commitment and with determination.”