Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 1929, at the family home at 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Charles Johnson was the attending physician. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first son and second child born to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Other children born to the Kings were Christine King Farris and the late Rev. Alfred Daniel Williams King. Their maternal grandparents were the Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, and Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents, James Albert and Delia King, were sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.
At the age of five, Martin Luther King, Jr. began school. This was before reaching the legal age of six, at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta. When his age was discovered, he was not permitted to continue school and did not resume his education until he was six. Following Yonge School he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high scores on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the 9th and 12th grades, he entered Morehouse at the age of 15.
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected president of the Senior Class and delivered the valedictory address. He won the Peral Plafkner Award as the most outstanding student, and he received the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer 1951.
In September of 1951, he began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” was completed in 1955, and the Ph.D. degree was awarded on June 5, 1955. Dr. King was awarded honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities in the United States and several foreign countries.
While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott, an Alabama native who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. They were married in Marion, Alabama on June 18, 1953. The next decade saw the birth of their four children – and Dr. King’s rise to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement.
Yolanda Denise King (Nov. 17, 1955 – May 15, 2007), their first-born child, was an American activist. She was also known for her artistic, entertainment endeavors and public speaking.
Martin Luther King III (born October 23, 1957), their eldest son and oldest living child, is an American human rights advocate and community activist.
Dexter Scott King (born Jan. 30, 1961) is their second son.
Bernice Albertine King (born March 28, 1963), their youngest child, is an American minister.
Martin Luther King, Jr. entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in Feb. 1948 at the age of 19 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he became assistant pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from Sept. 1954 to Nov. 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Dr. King is a pivotal figure in the – Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization responsible for the successful 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956. He was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also vice president of the National Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of numerous institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church and his final speech in Memphis are among his most famous utterances (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”). The “Letter from Birmingham Jail” ranks among the most important American documents. He received numerous awards for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. Although extremely involved with his family, his church, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, activities for peace and justice, his world travels and his many speaking engagements, Dr. King also wrote six books and numerous articles.
Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Dr. King was in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable working conditions. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968, and returned to Memphis, Tennessee on July 19, 1969 to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969 before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.
Editor’s Note: Charles H. Guy has been adjunct associate professor of humanities at Colorado Technical University from 1997 to 2006, while serving the campuses of Denver and Colorado Springs. He also served the University of Phoenix as adjunct professor from 2001-2006. He is semi-retired.