#6 | Short bio: Martin Luther King Jr


  1. STRUGGLE = luta, briga. “His boycott also became a turning point in the civil rights struggle – attracting national press for the cause.”
  2. ACHIEVE = alcançar, conquistar. “The civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes.”
  3. STRIKE = greve. “Martin Luther King helped to organise a strike.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. Both his father and grandfather were pastors in an African-American Baptist church. Martin Luther King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, which was a segregated school, and then went to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University. During his time at University, Martin Luther King became aware of the vast inequality and injustice faced by black Americans; in particular, he was influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest. At the age of 24, King married Coretta Scott, a beautiful and talented young woman. After getting married, King became a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

A turning point in the life of Martin Luther King was the Montgomery Bus Boycott which he helped to promote. His boycott also became a turning point in the civil rights struggle – attracting national press for the cause.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a civil rights protest during which African Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregated seating. The boycott took place from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, and is considered the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. Four days before the boycott began, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Martin Luther King helped to organise a strike where coloured people refused to use any of the city buses.

In his first speech to the group as its president, King declared:

We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

The boycott lasted for several months, the issue was then brought to the Supreme Court who declared the segregation was unconstitutional.

King was arrested several times during his lifetime. In 1960, he joined black college students in a protest – a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy mediated to have King released from jail.

A powerful orator, King appealed to Christian and American ideals and won growing support from the federal government and Northern whites. In 1963, Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph led the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the event’s grand finale was King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial to hear the stirring speech. 

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!”

In 1964, the civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes: the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which abolished the poll tax, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. Later that year, King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

King and his wife led demonstrators in a historic five-day march in 1965. It started in Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans had been campaigning for the right to vote, King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators 54 miles to the state capitol of Montgomery. One of the pivotal days was March 7, when 17 people were hospitalized and dozens more injured by police, including future Congressman John Lewis who suffered a fractured skull. Since that time, March 7 has been known as “Bloody Sunday.”

In the late 1960s, King openly criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam and turned his efforts to winning economic rights for poor Americans.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, he was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city.

Raised in a family of preachers, he’s considered one of the greatest speakers in U.S. history and he remains symbolic of America’s fight for justice and racial equality.

Fontes: CNN, History.com, Encyclopedia Britannica e National Geographic.

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