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Martin Luther King: The Civil Rights Activist with a Dream

MLK showed America the power of peace.

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Martin Luther King Jr. is a name most Americans are familiar with, especially the famous words from his equally legendary speech, “I Have a Dream.” But who was the man, and what drove him to become such an inspiration for the Civil Rights movement?

Early Years

King was born on January 15, 1929. He came from a strong Christian background with his grandfather, a pastor for the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1914 to 1931, then his father continuing the tradition. From 1960 until his death, Martin acted as co-pastor for the same church.

Martin attended public segregated schools and graduated from high school at the young age of 15. He continued his education and received a B.A. degree in 1948 from the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, following, again, in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who both also graduated from the school. For three years, he studied theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and was even elected the president of the class – a predominantly white student body. In 1955, Mr. King received his doctorate from Boston University.

“I Have a Dream”

Throughout his adult life, King devoted himself to achieving equal rights for black Americans, who lived segregated from white Americans. He advocated for non-violent activism and eventually became one of the most renowned and respected names in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

In 1954, the Civil Rights activist became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In December 1955, he became leader of the first non-violent demonstration in the U.S. of blacks with the bus boycott, which lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court declared the laws that required segregation between whites and blacks on buses were unconstitutional, a big win for the movement. However, even though King preached peaceful resolve, he was arrested, and his home was bombed. But he did not react in kind and kept his message of peace over violence as he continued to spread awareness of the cause.

King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, where he practiced his Christian ideals to further the equal rights effort. From 1957 to 1968, he was extremely committed and active, traveling more than six million miles and giving more than 2,500 speeches. He also wrote five books and several articles. Just some of his accomplishments during those 11 years include:

  • He led a huge protest in Birmingham, Alabama, which caught worldwide attention and inspired his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
  • He planned and executed drives in Alabama to register blacks as voters.
  • King organized the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., which had 250,000 people in attendance and where he gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • He campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • He was awarded five honorary degrees.
  • Time magazine named King Man of the Year in 1963.
  • King was only 35 years old when he received the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest to have received the honor. The $54,123 prize money he donated to help the Civil Rights cause.

Despite Mr. King’s peaceful protests, he was arrested around 20 times and assaulted at least four times. He was – and is – an inspiration to people of all nationalities and a symbol of how peaceful actions can be more powerful than violent protests.

On April 4, 1968, King was at a hotel, preparing for a protest march to support garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. While standing on the balcony, he was assassinated.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”


National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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