Martin Luther King, Jr. Biography

Author Profile

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111204688-King2.jpg Martin Luther King, Jr. (The Nobel Foundation) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The oldest son of a Baptist minister, King graduated from Atlanta’s Morehouse College at nineteen, received a divinity degree from a theological seminary, and earned a doctorate at Boston University in 1955. During his student years, he searched for ways to emancipate African Americans from the bondage of segregation and became interested in the potential of Christian love to effect social change. King’s search ended when he attended a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s nationalist movement against British rule. Gandhi was not interested in defeating the British, but in redeeming them through love.

The reconciliation of power and love, which Gandhi called satyagraha, provided a philosophical basis for his strategy of nonviolent resistance to unjust laws. King equated Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha with agape, the Greek word for Christian love. He left the lecture convinced that the liberation of African Americans could be achieved through nonviolent resistance predicated upon the power of brotherly love.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Martin Luther King, Jr., has been hailed as a prophet, a modern Moses, and the conscience of a nation. The son of a southern middle-class African American minister and his wife, King became an internationally known leader of the Civil Rights movement. King gained worldwide recognition for his philosophy of nonviolent social change. In 1964 he became the youngest person to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

King attended school in Atlanta but did not formally complete high school. Instead, he passed an examination that allowed him to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. During his undergraduate studies he was ordained into the Christian ministry. After graduating, King continued his education at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, finishing at the top of his class. He earned his Ph.D. in 1955 from the Boston University School of Theology.

While he was minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, had their first child two weeks before Rosa Parks made her fateful decision not to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white man. Five days later, King was elected president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association, and the now-famous bus boycott officially began. After 381 days of nonviolent protest, during which King was arrested and indicted, federal injunctions were served and Montgomery buses were integrated on December 21, 1956.

King and his followers accomplished in thirteen years what decades had failed to produce. The minister traveled across the globe meeting with world leaders, all the while continuing to reach millions of poor, disfranchised African Americans by participating in numerous boycotts and marches. Early on, he spoke at places as varied as the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington D.C., the...

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Author Profile

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Martin Luther King, Jr., was formally ordained at the age of nineteen, in the church over which his father presided, thus officially beginning his public-speaking career. Within ten years, he had secured a position as pastor of a Montgomery, Alabama, church and had established himself as a civil rights leader by leading a boycott against the Montgomery public transportation system. After the successful conclusion of the boycott, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Council, in the hope of harnessing the momentum of the movement to further the cause of racial equality.

Supported by a network of churches and civil rights organizations, King became the most vocal opponent to segregation, and thus became a lightning rod for criticism and accolades. On August 28, 1963, King led a march on Washington, D.C., at which he delivered his best-known speech, “I Have a Dream.” The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Also during 1963 and 1964, King was arrested four times on charges such as parading without a permit, trespassing, and contempt of court. One of King’s most powerful works, “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” was composed while he was incarcerated during this time, and several other pieces were occasioned by the arrests and subsequent confinements.

The focus of most of King’s writings was upon the necessity for all citizens to effect necessary social changes by using a system of passive resistance and economic empowerment. The tenets of his strategy were outlined in such speeches as “The Power of Nonviolence” (1957) and “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience” (1961). In addresses such as “A Time to Break Silence” (1967), he spoke of the need for Americans to examine their beliefs about race and culture, with respect not only to conflicts within the United States but also in international relations, such as those with Vietnam.

King’s later works, such as Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, show King’s reluctant recognition that the struggle for racial equality would be a long-term battle. Although he believed that civil rights would eventually be equally afforded to all Americans, he warned of the dangers of complacency and backsliding. In his final address (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”), given on April 3, 1968, he urged supporters of civil rights to continue the struggle in his absence. The next day, he was shot to death.

Author Profile

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Influenced chiefly by the Indian liberator Mahatma Gandhi and the southern black evangelical tradition, King combined nonviolent activism and Christian theology in his ethic of social change. He maintained throughout his public career that he was not seeking to change only laws but also attitudes, so that people of all races and classes could live in the Beloved Community, a concept borrowed from Social Gospel advocate Walter Rauschenbusch. Central to King’s philosophy was an ethic of love drawn largely from traditional Christian morality and combined with a strong reformist mission. King openly challenged the acquiescence of both blacks and whites. It was time for change, he believed, because the status quo was perpetuating wrong behavior that was harming all races, but meaningful change would come only by ethical means. “Returning hate for hate,” he affirmed, “multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only love can do that.”