Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. before a crowd
King at the March on Washington, 1963. Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, GA. His birth certificate listed his first name as Michael, but this was later changed to Martin. His Grandfather and then his Father both served as the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in Sociology. He further received a Bachelor's of Divinity in 1951 and then a Ph.D. from Boston College in 1955. It was in Boston where he met and later married Coretta Scott. They had two sons and two daughters together.

Becoming a Civil Rights Leader:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was appointed the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. It was while serving as pastor of the church that Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This occurred on December 1, 1955. By December 5, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott had begun.

Montgomery Bus Boycott:

On December 5, 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was unanimously elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During this time, African-Americans refused to ride the public bus system in Montgomery. King's home was bombed due to his involvement. Thankfully his wife and baby daughter who were home at the time were unharmed. King was then arrested in February on the charges of conspiracy. The boycott lasted 382 days. At the end on December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on public transportation was illegal.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference:

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed in 1957 and King was named its leader. Its goal was to provide leadership and organization in the fight for civil rights. He used the ideas of civil disobedience and peaceful protests based on the writings of Thoreau and the actions of Mohandas Gandhi to lead the organization and the fight against segregation and discrimination. Their demonstrations and activism helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a major part of many nonviolent protests as he helped lead the fight for desegregation and equal rights. He was arrested numerous times. In 1963, numerous "sit-ins" were staged in Birmingham, Alabama to protest segregation in restaurants and eating facilities. King was arrested during one of these and while he was imprisoned wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." In this letter, he argued that only through visible protests would progress be made. He argued that it was an individual's duty to protest and disobey unjust laws.

Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech

On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington led by King and other Civil Rights Leaders took place. It was the largest demonstration of its kind in Washington, D.C. up to that time and approximately 250,000 demonstrators were involved. It was during this March that King gave his awe-inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech while speaking from the Lincoln Memorial. He and the other leaders then met with President John F. Kennedy. They asked for many things including an end to segregation in public schools, greater protections for African-Americans, and more effective civil rights legislation amongst other things.

Nobel Peace Prize

In 1963, King was named Time Magazine's Man of the Year. He had stepped onto the world stage. He met with Pope Paul VI in 1964 and then was honored as the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded this on December 10, 1964, at the age of thirty-five. He gave the entire amount of the prize money to help with the Civil Rights movement.

Selma, Alabama

On March 7, 1965, a group of protestors attempted a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. King was not part of this march because he had wanted to delay its start date until the 8th. However, the march was extremely important because it was met by terrible police brutality that was captured on film. The images of this made a huge impact on those not directly involved in the fight resulting in a public outcry for changes to be made. The March was attempted again, and the protestors successfully made it to Montgomery on March 25, 1965, where they heard King speak at the Capitol.


Between 1965 and 1968, King continued with his protest work and fought for Civil Rights. King became a critic of the War in Vietnam. While speaking from a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. The day before he gave a poignant speech where he said, "[God's] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you." While James Earl Ray was arrested and charged with the assassination, there have been and still are questions to his guilt and whether there was a larger conspiracy at work.