Martin Luther King Jr.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929-1968), American clergyman, one of the principal leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States and a prominent advocate of nonviolent protest. King\'s challenges to segregation and racial discrimination helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States.
King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and was ordained as a Baptist minister at age 18. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and from Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951. In 1955 he earned a doctoral degree in systematic theology from Boston University. While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott, whom he married in 1953.
In 1954 King accepted his first pastorate at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery\'s black community had long-standing grievances about the mistreatment of blacks on city buses. The city\'s segregation laws forced black riders to sit in the back of buses and give up their seats to white passengers on crowded buses.
In late 1955 Rosa Parks, a leading member of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. King soon was selected as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the organization that directed a bus boycott prompted by Parks\'s jailing. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted for more than a year. Incidents of violence against black protesters, including the bombing of King\'s home, focused media attention on the city. A lawsuit filed by an MIA attorney appeared before the Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld a lower court ruling ordering Montgomery\'s buses to be desegregated. By late 1956 King was a national figure.
In 1957 King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization of black churches and ministers that aimed to challenge racial segregation. King and other SCLC leaders encouraged the use of nonviolent marches, demonstrations, and boycotts to protest discrimination.
In 1963 the SCLC joined a local protest in Birmingham, Alabama, attempting to create so much disorder that local white officials would be forced to end segregation in order to restore normal business relations. King and his SCLC staff escalated antisegregation marches in Birmingham by encouraging teenagers and school children to join. Hundreds of singing children filled the downtown streets, angering police commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor, who sent police officers with attack dogs and firefighters with high-pressure water hoses against the marchers. King was arrested and jailed. The demonstrations- which forced white leaders to negotiate an end to some forms of segregation in Birmingham- encouraged many Americans to support national legislation against segregation.
King and other black leaders organized the 1963 March on Washington, a massive protest in Washington, D.C., for jobs and civil rights. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to an audience of more than 200,000 civil rights supporters. The speech and the march created the political momentum that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited segregation in public accommodations and discrimination in education and employment. As a result of King\'s effective leadership, he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for peace.
In 1965 SCLC joined a voting-rights protest march that was planned to go from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery, more than 80 km (50 mi) away. The marchers met with severe police brutality on a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, as police beat and tear-gassed the marchers. Almost three weeks later, more than 3000 people arrived in Montgomery, where King addressed a rally of more than 20,000 people in front of the capitol. The march created support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which eventually banned the use of voter qualification tests that often had been used to prevent blacks from registering to vote.
Throughout 1966 and 1967 King increasingly turned the focus of his activism to the redistribution of the nation\'s economic wealth to overcome entrenched black poverty. In the spring of 1968 he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking black garbage workers. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, prompting riots in more than 100 American cities in the following days. In 1969 James Earl Ray, a white escaped convict, pleaded guilty to King\'s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in