"Now, I say to you today my friends, 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.' "
--Martin Luther King Jr., Speech at Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963
Martin Luther King, Junior was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to Reverend Martin Luther King, Senior and his wife Alberta Williams King. The nation King was born into was much different from the one we're familiar with today, despite the fact that less than a century has passed since then. Born into a poor, urban, black community on the east side of downtown Atlanta, the world King knew as a child was one of strict segregation and state-supported racism. In Atlanta, as with most towns throughout the south, blacks were not allowed to use the same restaurants, parks, public toilets, transport, or schools as whites. This was a difficult reality for the Baptist-raised King to reconcile with, to say the least. When, at the age of 16, King was forced to stand on a bus to make room for whites to sit he professed it was "the angriest I have ever been in my life." Thankfully, King refused to let this anger drive his motivations in life but rather began to follow a self-described "inner urge to serve humanity." In 1948 he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in Sociology and in 1951 he followed that up with a Bachelors in Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. In 1954 he was ordained as a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Through the early and mid-1950's Martin Luther King, Jr had only passing involvement with the growing civil rights movement, considering his primary responsibilities to be those of leading his church and growing his ministry. This changed in 1957, however, when King co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Organized on the belief that the black church had a moral authority to lead the charge for equality reform in the form of non-violent rallies and protests. Soon after founding the SCLC King also took a brief trip to India in a personal pilgrimage of sorts to connect with the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1948) whom King took a great deal of inspiration from. This trip to India went a long ways toward forming the Martin Luther King, Junior we remember today as evidenced by the following statement he gave upon his return: "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."
As the 1960's began the name Martin Luther King, Junior was becoming more widely known. He led numerous marches and 'movements' in places such as Albany, GA (1961), Birmingham, AL (1963), St. Augustine, FL (1964), Selma, AL (1964), and New York City (1964). His greatest talent, however, was that of oratory. King's famous 'I Have A Dream' Speech, given at the Lincoln Memorial to a quarter-million-strong crowd is widely regarded as one of the finest American speeches ever delivered...
"I say to you today, my friends, 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.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.....Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountain side. Let freedom ring . . . When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, "We are free at last.""
Thanks in no small part to King's powerful words, Washington legislators soon after passed the momentous Civil Rights Act of 1964. King's work behalf of racial equality didn't end there though. In March 1965 King organized and led the famous Selma-to-Montgomery Voter Rights March in Alabama. In 1967 he gave another famous and emotional speech in opposition of the growing conflict in Vietnam (which he regarded as taking precious resources and attention away from the greater social issues in the U.S.). In addition he was involved in countless other rallies, speeches, protests, and marches. On March 29, 1968 King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to speak at a rally of black public sanitation workers. He delivered yet another memorable speech, now dubbed the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address on April 3 in which he closed with the following, now chilling, words...
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. 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. 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 following evening, April 4th, while standing on the balcony outside his Memphis hotel room Martin Luther King, Junior was shot and killed...he was 39 years old.
No one can deny the impact the life of Martin Luther King, Junior had on Civil Rights in the United States. In many cases (such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 & 1968) federal legislation was passed almost certainly as a direct result of speeches or protests he led. By the early 1970's many cities and towns across the country had designated 'Martin Luther King, Jr Days' in his memory and as a reminder to continue the work he started. In 1977 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1986 Martin Luther King, Junior Day was made an official national holiday, to be celebrated the third Monday of January. In 2004 he and his wife were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. At latest count nearly a thousand U.S. cities have streets named in his honor.
Most pertinent to this album, Martin Luther King Junior National Historic Site was established in King's hometown of Atlanta, Georgia in 1980. The Historic Site covers around 35-acres and preserves many structures which figured prominently in the life of King himself...most notably King's boyhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church (which both he and his father served at as pastors), and his tomb. Tucked into what remains to this day a poor black neighborhood, the Historic Site is a small but incredibly poignant glimpse into the life of one of the greatest and most influential men in American history. I invite you to come along with me as I tour the site. I'll try to explain the highlights the best I can but I'd encourage you, independently, to read further on the life of this amazing individual. Without further adieu...Martin Luther King, Junior National Historic Site...
"Martin Luther King, Jr., was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America. He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet."
-- President Jimmy Carter, Presidential Medal of Freedom citation, 1977