Although he is now known as Martin Luther King, he was born Michael King Jr. His father traveled to Germany and became infatuated by the Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther. This led King’s father to change his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son. He came from a family rooted in ministry. King’s grandfather started the family’s tenure as pastors, and led 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 Corretta Scott.
During this time King became the pastor of a 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, even having 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.
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. His activism was displayed through his writing (ex: Letter from a Birmingham Jail), organizing drives to register African-American voters; helping to organize the March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech; and working with former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
His efforts 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 furthering 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 worker's strike. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. insighted protest in more than 100 cities across the country. His birthday along with his legacy was honored with a national holiday starting in 1986.