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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Biography

During the spring of 1963, Dr. King and his staff guided mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known for their anti-black attitudes. In June, President John F. Kennedy reacted to the Birmingham protests and the intractable stance of Alabama Governor George Wallace by forming plans to submit broad civil rights legislation to Congress (eventually passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Mass demonstrations in many communities culminated in a march on August 28, 1963, that attracted more than 250,000 protesters to Washington, DC. Addressing the marchers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" oration.

During the year following the March, King's renown grew as he became Time magazine's Man of the Year and, in December 1964, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite fame and accolades, however, King faced many challenges to his leadership. Malcolm X's (1927-1965) message of self-defense and black nationalism expressed the discontent and anger of northern, urban blacks more effectively than did King's moderation. During the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march, King and his lieutenants were able to keep intra-movement conflicts sufficiently under control to bring about passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but while participating in a 1966 march through Mississippi, King encountered strong criticism from "Black Power" proponent Stokely Carmichael. Shortly afterward white counter-protesters in the Chicago area physically assaulted King in the Chicago area during an unsuccessful effort to transfer non-violent protest techniques to the urban North. Despite these leadership conflicts, King remained committed to the use of non-violent techniques. Early in 1968, he initiated a Poor Peoples campaign designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by early civil rights reforms.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's already extensive efforts to undermine King's leadership were intensified during 1967 as urban racial violence escalated and King criticized American intervention in the Vietnam war. King had lost the support of many white liberals, and his relations with the Lyndon Johnson administration were at a low point when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while seeking to assist a garbage workers' strike in Memphis. After his death, King remained a controversial symbol of the African-American civil rights struggle, revered by many for his martyrdom on behalf of non-violence and condemned by others for his militancy and insurgent views.

In addition to “Stride Toward Freedom,” he is the author of an autobiography edited by Clayborne Carson, and “Strength to Love,” both available through Amazon.

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University

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Last updated on Thursday, January 17, 2013.

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