Martin Luther King, Jr.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Martin Luther King visit Martin Luther King (disambiguation)
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Born January 15, 1929
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Died April 4, 1968
Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929April 4, 1968) was an Baptist minister and political activist who was the most famous leader of the American civil rights movement. King won the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom before being assassinated in 1968. For his promotion of non-violence and racial equality, King is considered a peacemaker and martyr by many people around the world. Martin Luther King Day was established in his honor.


Background and family

King was born in Atlanta, Georgia to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. (Birth records list King's first name as Michael, apparently due to some confusion on the part of the family doctor regarding the true name of his father, who was known as Mike throughout his childhood.) He graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1948. At Morehouse, King was mentored by President Benjamin Mays, a civil rights leader. Later he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania [1] with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.

King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. The wedding ceremony took place in Scott's parents' house in Marion, Alabama, and was performed by King's father.

King and Scott had four children:

The four children all have one thing in common: They have followed their father's footsteps as civil rights activists, although pet issues and opinions differ among the King children.

Civil rights activism

In 1953, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a leader of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which began when Rosa Parks refused to comply with Jim Crow law and surrender her seat to a white man. The boycott lasted for 381 days. The situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on intrastate buses.

Following the campaign, King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization until his death. The organization's nonviolent principles were criticized by the younger, more radical blacks and challenged by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) then headed by James Foreman.

The SCLC derived its membership principally from black communities associated with Baptist churches. King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mahatma Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. King correctly recognized that organized, nonviolent protest against the racist system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Indeed, journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that made the Civil Rights Movement the single most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.

King is perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
King is perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, fair hiring and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out in often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent. King and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful protest movement in Albany, in 19611962, where divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts; in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963; and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. King and the SCLC joined forces with SNCC in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for a number of months.

Stance on Affirmative Action

Contrary to popular belief, and despite his call for a colorblind nation, Martin Luther King Jr. may have supported affirmative action. Among his comments:

"Whenever this issue [compensatory treatment] is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up."

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis. "

"... for two centuries the Negro was enslaved and robbed of any wages — potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America's wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation.It is an economic fact that a program such as I propose would certainly cost far less than any computation of two centuries of unpaid wages plus accumulated interest. In any case, I do not intend that this program of economic aid should apply only to the Negro: it should benefit the disadvantaged of all races."

As one site puts it: "King actually suggested it might be necessary to have something akin to "discrimination in reverse" as a form of national "atonement" for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation." [2][3][4]

Scholars argue whether he advocated affirmative action for the poor, blacks, or both. King himself admitted that the vast majority of the poor were black anyway, implying that he could put his proposed programs in terms of class and not race, while still achieving the end of compensatory treatment, albeit via a more agreeable position. While it may seem that he alternates between advocating socioeconomic and racial affirmative action, the latter predominated. In a Playboy interview he proposes a massive public works project of Depression-Era proportions, the likely grounds for Reagan calling King a near communist. [5][6]

The March on Washington

King and SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, then attempted to organize a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, for March 25, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7, was aborted due to mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day since has become known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King's nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he had attempted to delay the march until March 8, but the march was carried out against his wishes and without his presence by local civil rights workers. The footage of the police brutality against the protestors was broadcast extensively across the nation and aroused a national sense of public outrage.

The second attempt at the march on March 9 was ended when King stopped the procession at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, an action which he seemed to have negotiated with city leaders beforehand. This unexpected action aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, with the agreement and support of President Johnson, and it was during this march that Willie Ricks coined the phrase "Black Power" (widely credited to Stokely Carmichael).

King, representing SCLC, was among the leaders of the so-called "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were: Roy Wilkins, NAACP; Whitney Young, Jr., Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). For King, this role was another which courted controversy, as he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation, but the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.

The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the South and a very public opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital. Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the South. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone.

As a result, some civil rights activists who felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington," and members of the Nation of Islam who attended the march faced a temporary suspension.[7]

The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for the District of Columbia, then governed by congressional committee.

Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protestors in Washington's history. King's I Have a Dream speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded, along with President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.

Throughout his career of service, King wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his long experience as a preacher. His "Letter from Birmingham Jail", written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.


After several successes in the South, King and other people in the civil rights organizations decided to try to spread the movement to the North. The first target was Chicago. King and Ralph Abernathy moved there. They lived in slums on purpose as an educational experience and as a way to symbolize that they were with the poor. They were both rather middle class folks, well educated and of decent means, so they had to figure some way to connect.

Abernathy could not stand the slums and secretly moved out after a short period. King stayed and wrote about how Coretta and his children suffered emotional problems from the horrid conditions, inability to play outside, &c.

In Chicago, Abernathy would later write, they received a worse reception than they had received in the south. Thrown bottles and screaming throngs met their marches and they were truly afraid of starting a riot. King had always felt a responsibility to the people he was leading to not unnecessarily stage a violent event, something rather unique to him as a radical social leader of the 60s or any other decade. If he had intimations a peaceful march would be put down with violence he would call it off for the safety of people. But he himself still faced death many a time by marching at the front in the face of death threats to his person. And in Chicago the violence was so formidable, it shook the two friends.

But worse than the violence was the two facedness of the city leaders; Abernathy and King secured agreements on action to be taken but this action was largely bureaucratically killed after the fact by the politicians of the corrupt Daly machine. Some of their small successes such as Operation Breadbasket did not translate into anything as large as the desegregation cases of the bus boycott in the South. However they did light the fire of ideas like Affirmative Action and organizing labor as legitimate techniques in the minds of the people.

They left a young Chicago activist in charge of their organization as they went back to the South. His name was Jesse Jackson and while he had a great deal of heart and oratorical skill, he knew very little about running an organization. They asked him for financial information, and he sent them a bag of unorganized receipts. Chicago could be seen as a point where the civil rights movement lost its momentum and began to fade to a shadow of what King had planned for it.

Further challenges

King giving a speech
King giving a speech

Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States' role in the Vietnam War. On April 4, 1967— exactly one year before his death— King spoke out strongly against the US's role in the war, insisting that the US was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." But he also argued that the country needed larger and broader moral changes:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." [8]

King was long hated by many white southern segregationists, but this speech turned the more mainstream media against him. TIME called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi (a propaganda radio station run by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War)", and the Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

The speech was a reflection of King's evolving political advocacy in his later years. He began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation. Toward the end of his life, King more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. Though his public language was guarded, so as to avoid being linked to communism by his political enemies, in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism:

You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry.... Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong... with capitalism.... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. (Frogmore, S.C. November 14, 1966. Speech in front of his staff.)

However like Nelson Mandela, Russel Means, and other social leaders, he was against communism because among other things it had no room for the individual.

In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the "Poor People's Campaign" to address issues of economic justice. The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

On April 3, 1968, King prophetically told a euphoric crowd:

It really doesn't matter what happens now.... some began to... talk about the threats that were out -- what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.... Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He'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. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.


The Lorraine Motel, where Rev. King was assassinated, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum
The Lorraine Motel, where Rev. King was assassinated, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum

King was assassinated the next evening, April 4, 1968, at 6:01pm, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while preparing to lead a local march in support of the heavily black Memphis sanitation workers' union which was on strike at the time. Friends inside the motel room heard the shot fired and ran to the balcony to find King shot in the jaw. He was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's hospital at 7:05 PM . The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 60 cities. Four days later, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral that same day.

Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London's Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969, (though he recanted this confession three days later). Later, Ray would be sentenced to a 99-year prison term.

Ray, a presumed white supremacist and segregationist, allegedy killed King because of the latter's extensive civil rights work. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty although it was highly unlikely that he would have been executed even if he had been sentenced to death, since the US Supreme Court's 1972 decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia invalidated all state death penalty laws then in force.

Ray fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him "Percy Fourflusher") claiming that a man he met in Montreal, Canada with the alias "Raoul" was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not himself, further asserting that although he didn't "personally shoot Dr. King," he may have been "partially responsible without knowing it," hinting at a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.

Allegations of conspiracy

Some have speculated that Ray had been used as a "patsy" similar to the way that alleged John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to have been. Some of the claims used to support this assertion are:

  • Ray was a small-time thief and burglar, and had no record of committing violent crimes with a weapon.
  • The weapon that Ray is believed to have used in the assassination (a Remington Gamemaster Model 760 .30-'06 caliber rifle) had only two of Ray's fingerprints on it.
  • According to several fellow prison inmates, Ray had never expressed any political or racial opinions of any kind, casting doubt on Ray's purported motive for committing the crime.
  • The rooming-house bathroom from where Ray is said to have fired the fatal shots did not have any of his fingerprints at all.
  • Ray was believed to have been an average marksman, and it is claimed by many that Ray had not fired a rifle since his discharge from the U.S. Army in the late 1940s.

Many suspecting a conspiracy in the assassination point out the two separate ballistic tests conducted on the Remington Gamemaster had neither conclusively proved Ray had been the killer nor that it had even been the murder weapon. Moreover, witnesses surrounding King at the moment of his death say the shot came from another location, from behind thick shrubbery near the rooming house, not from the rooming house itself, shrubbery which had been suddenly and inexplicably cut away in the days following the assassination. Also, Ray's petty criminal history had been one of colossal and repeated ineptitude, he'd been quickly and easily apprehended each time he committed an offense, behavior in sharp contrast to that of his shortly before and after the shooting; he'd easily managed to secure several different pieces of legitimate identification, using the names and personal data of living men who all coincidentally looked like and were of about the same age and physical build as Ray, he spent large sums of cash and traveled overseas without being apprehended at any border crossing, even though he had been a wanted fugitive. According to Ray, all of this had been accomplished with the aid of the still unidentified "Raoul." Investigative reporter Louis Lomax had also discovered the Missouri Department of Corrections, shortly after Ray's April 1967 prison escape, had sent the incorrect set of fingerprints to the FBI and had failed to notice or correct this error. Lomax had been publishing a series of investigative stories on the King assassination for the North American Newspaper Alliance, stories challenging the official view of the case, and had been reportedly pressured by the FBI to halt his investigation.

According to a former Pemiscot County, Missouri deputy sheriff, Jim Green, who claimed to have been part of an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-led conspiracy to kill Dr. King, Ray had been targeted as the patsy for the King assassination shortly before his April 1967 prison escape and had been tracked by the Bureau during his year as a fugitive. After several trips to and from Canada and Mexico during this time, Ray had gone to Memphis after agreeing to participate (allegedly controlled by his mysterious benefactor "Raoul" who reportedly had weeks before while in Birmingham, Alabama ordered Ray to purchase the Remington Gamemaster rifle) in what he was told was a major bank robbery while King was in town--since city police resources would be dedicated toward maintaining security for King and his entourage, the intended bank heist would be much simpler than usual. Green (who, like Ray, had asserted that FBI assistant director Cartha DeLoach headed the assassination plot) had claimed Ray had been ordered to stay in the rooming house and as a diversion for the purported bank heist, to then hold up a small diner near the rooming house at approximately 6:00 p.m. on April 4th. Dr. King was shot a minute later by a sniper hidden in the shrubbery near the rooming house. Meanwhile, according to Green, two men, one of them allegedly a Memphis police detective, were waiting to ambush and kill Ray while Ray was on his way to the planned diner holdup and then plant the Remington rifle in the trunk of Ray's pale yellow (not white) 1966 Ford Mustang, effectively framing a dead man. However, moments before the assassination, Ray had apparently suspected a setup and instead quickly left town in his Mustang, heading for Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta police found Ray's abandoned Mustang six days after King had been shot.

Ray and six other convicts escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee on June 10, 1977 shortly after Ray testified that he did not shoot King to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, but were recaptured on June 13 and returned to prison.[9] More years were then added to his sentence for attempting to escape from the penitentiary.

Recent developments

In 1997 Martin Luther King's son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray's efforts to obtain a trial.

In 1999, Coretta Scott King, King's widow (and a civil rights leader herself), along with the rest of King's family won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown co-conspirators". Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found Jowers guilty and that "governmental agencies were parties" to the assassination plot.[10] [11]

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted "The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. ... I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray." [12] King biographer David Garrow disagrees with William F. Pepper's claims that the government killed King. He is supported by King assassination author Gerald Posner. [13]

King and the FBI

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King (second from left).
John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King (second from left).

King had a mutually antagonistic relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), especially its director, J. Edgar Hoover, who had deeply detested the civil rights leader. The FBI began tracking King and the SCLC in 1961. Its investigations were largely superficial until 1962, when it learned that one of King's most trusted advisers was New York City lawyer Stanley Levison. Levison had been suspected by the Bureau of involvement with the Communist Party, USA, to which another key King lieutenant, Hunter Pitts O'Dell, was also linked by sworn testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The Bureau placed wiretaps on Levison and King's home and office phones, and bugged King's rooms in hotels as he traveled across the country. The Bureau also informed then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and then-President John F. Kennedy, both of whom unsuccessfully tried to persuade King to dissociate himself from Levison. For his part, King adamantly denied having any connections to Communism, stating at one point that "there are as many Communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida"—to which Hoover responded by calling King "the most notorious liar in the country."

The attempt to smear King as a communist was in keeping with the feeling of many segregationists that blacks in the South were happy with their lot, but had been stirred up by "Communists" and "outside agitators." Movement leaders countered that voter disenfranchisement, lack of education and employment opportunities, discrimination and vigilante violence were the reasons for the strength of the Civil Rights Movement, and that blacks had the intelligence and motivation to organize on their own.

HUAC later was discredited for its coercion of witnesses and the manner in which it sought to implicate individuals with vague and often sweeping accusations and assumptions of guilt by association. The Committee was renamed in 1969 and eventually abolished.

Later, the focus of the Bureau's investigations shifted to attempting to "discredit" King through revelations regarding his private life. FBI surveillance of King, some of it since made public, demonstrates that he also engaged in numerous extramarital sexual affairs. Accounts of such behavior also have been provided by King's associates, including close friend Ralph Abernathy. The Bureau distributed reports regarding such affairs to the executive branch, friendly reporters, potential coalition partners and funding sources of the SCLC, and King's family. The Bureau also sent anonymous letters to King threatening to reveal information if he didn't cease his civil rights work.

Finally, the Bureau's investigation shifted away from King's personal life to intelligence and counterintelligence work on the direction of the SCLC and the Black Power movement.

On January 31, 1977, in the cases of Bernard S. Lee v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. and Southern Christian Leadership Conference v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. United States District Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr., ordered all known copies of the recorded audiotapes and written transcripts resulting from the FBI's electronic surveillance of King between 1963 and 1968, be held in the National Archives and sealed from public access until 2027.

Across from the Lorraine Motel, next to the rooming house in which James Earl Ray was staying, was a vacant fire station. The FBI was assigned to observe King during the appearance he was planning to make on the Lorraine Motel second-floor balcony later that day, and utilized the fire station as a makeshift base. Using papered-over windows with peepholes cut into them, the agents watched over the scene until MLK was shot. Immediately following the shooting, all six agents rushed out of the station and were the first people to administer first-aid to Dr. King. Their presence nearby has led to speculation that the FBI was involved in the assassination.

Awards and recognition

Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 the American Jewish Committee presented the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the American Liberties Medallion for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty." Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free."

Plans are underway for a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial to be built in Washington D.C.. In October of 2005, film producer George Lucas donated $1 million towards the cost of the project.

Authorship issues

Main article: Martin Luther King, Jr. - authorship issues

Beginning in the 1980s, questions have been raised regarding the authorship of King's dissertation, other papers, and his speeches. (Though not widely known during his lifetime, most of his published writings during his civil rights career were ghostwritten, or at least heavily adapted from his speeches.) Concerns about his doctoral dissertation at Boston University led to a formal inquiry by university officials, which concluded that approximately a third of it had been plagiarized from a paper written by an earlier graduate student, but it was decided not to revoke his degree, as the paper still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." Such uncredited "textual appropriation," as King scholar Clayborne Carson has labeled it, was apparently a habit of King's begun earlier in his academic career. It is also a feature of many of his speeches, which borrowed heavily from those of other preachers and white radio evangelists. While some political opponents have used these findings to criticize King, most of the scholars in question have sought to put them into broader context; for example, Keith Miller, probably the foremost expert on language-borrowing in King's oratory, has argued that the practice falls within the tradition of African-American folk preaching, and should not necessarily be labeled plagiarism.


Since his death, King's reputation has grown to become one of the most revered names in American history. Today he is often compared with Abraham Lincoln, with supporters remarking that both men were leaders who strongly advanced human rights against poor odds, in a nation divided against itself on the issue - and were ultimately assassinated in part for it. Even posthumous accusations of marital infidelity and academic plagiarism have not seriously dented his public esteem, but merely reinforced the image of a very human hero and leader. A Greatest Americans Poll on the Discovery Channel network had King earning the third spot as the greatest American of all time.

In 1980, King's boyhood home in Atlanta and several other nearby buildings were declared as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. In 1986, a U.S. national holiday was established in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., which is called Martin Luther King Day. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of King's birthday. On January 18, 1993, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states. In addition, many U.S. cities have officially renamed one of their streets to honor King.

Since his death, Coretta Scott King has followed her husband's footsteps and is active in matters of social justice and civil rights. The same year Martin Luther King was assassinated, Mrs. King established the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to preserving his legacy and the work of championing nonviolent conflict resolution and tolerance worldwide. Dexter King currently serves as the Center's president and CEO. Yolanda King is a motivational speaker, author and founder of Higher Ground Productions, an organization specializing in diversity training.

King was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans. In 1998, the fraternity was authorized by United States Congress to establish a foundation to manage fundraising and design of a memorial to Dr. King [14].

See also


  • The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., David Garrow, Penguin Books: New York, New York, 1981. ISBN 0140064869
  • And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Ralph Abernathy

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Video and audio material

Personal tools