Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to the late Rev.
Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. He was the second oldest of three children. His
brother, A.D. Williams King, mysteriously drowned a year after MLK was assassinated. His sister,
Christine King Farris, is an educator who teaches at Spelman College in Atlanta and is a member of
the Board of Directors of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King
Center). In June of 1955 MLK wed Marion, Alabama native Coretta Scott. To their union four
children were born, Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) earned a PhD in his own right and was awarded 20 honorary
doctorates. In 1963, he was Time Magazines’ Man of the Year. At the age of 35, he was the youngest
man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, which continues today to fight for equal justice through nonviolent demonstrations.
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MLK successfully led a nonviolent movement that transformed the leaders, the followers, the nation
and the world. Most importantly, it was under his leadership that African Americans were able to
renounce their title as second class citizens and to gain passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting
Rights Act. For the purpose of this study the Civil Rights Movement is defined as those years, 1955 –
1968, that MLK served as its leader.
Even though MLK is known as a preacher, teacher, leader, and great speaker, he only asked to
be remembered as a “drum major for justice.” In his Drum Major Instinct speech, which he delivered
on April 3, 1968 MLK, in essence, preached his own eulogy when he stated:
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And
if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and
then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace
Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other
awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. I’d like
somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving
others…. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that
I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for
peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not
matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of
life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (King, 1968, p. 365)
On April 4, 1968, one day after delivering his Drum Major Instinct speech Martin Luther
King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
James Earl Ray was convicted of the crime and sentenced to serve 99 years in federal prison.
However, in 1999, a Tennessee jury, ruling in favor of the King Family, found that Lloyd Jowers, who
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owned a restaurant near the Lorraine Motel; other unknown conspirators and governmental agencies
including, the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and the federal government, were party to the
conspiracy to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr.