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This Day in History: January 15th

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Scholar, minister and activist Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. The minister led the civil rights movement of the 1950s and played a fundamental role in ending legal segregation for African-Americans.

Born Michael King Jr., the minister came from a comfortable middle-class family that was rooted in Southern black ministry. King’s grandfather started the family’s tenure as pastor and he led the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for more than a decade. King’s father took over the church and he even served as the co-pastor of the church with his father.

In 1948, King earned his sociology degree from Morehouse College and went on to attend the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He won a fellowship while in Seminary that allowed him to enroll in graduate studies at Boston University and received a doctoral degree in 1955. While in Boston, King met and married Coretta Scott

During this time, King became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In December of 1955, King accepted the call to lead the first nonviolent protest of its kind, the bus boycott. King was arrested and abused during the time of protest and even had his home bombed. However, the offenses were not in vain because, on December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States declared segregation to be unconstitutional, and African-American and white passengers were able to ride the buses as equals.

King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization that was formed to provide leadership for the civil rights movement that was underway. The group helped to lead massive nonviolent protests to foster societal reform. During this time King also wrote a manifesto, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, organized drives to register African-American voters; directed the March on Washington where he delivered his famous  “I Have a Dream” speech; and worked with former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

His activism and push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed him to become the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. King dedicated his prize money to further the cause of the civil rights movement. 

On April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony outside of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. King was in Memphis to lead a protest in support of the garbage workers’ strike. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. caused protests in more than 100 cities across the country.  

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