An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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King, Martin Luther, Jr.

(Jan. 15, 1929-Apr. 4, 1968). Civil rights leader. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son and grandson of African American Baptist preachers. He received his B.A. from Morehouse College in 1948 and was ordained a Baptist minister on Feb. 25, 1948. King received his M.Div. from the Crozer Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, in 1951. While a student at Crozer, he was exposed to the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. He was deeply impressed by Gandhi's faith in nonviolent protest. In 1955 King received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University. On Oct. 31, 1954, he was installed as the twentieth pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he stayed until 1960. On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. She was arrested. The African American community organized a bus boycott, and King became its leader. He soon became the leader of the civil rights movement in the United States and the nation's most ardent exponent of nonviolent social reform. The theme of the bus boycott was "We must stand up together so that we can sit down wherever we please." In Jan. 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was organized. King was its first president. Its motto was "To redeem the soul of America." On Jan. 24, 1960, King became the co-pastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and stayed there until his death. King was frequently harassed and arrested. On Apr. 16, 1963, he published his well-known "Letter from Birmingham City Jail." In this letter he explained that Christian discipleship is at the heart of the African American struggle for justice. On Aug. 28, 1963, he gave the speech, "I Have a Dream," as the keynote address of the March on Washington for Civil Rights. King was given the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1964, for his efforts in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. In the last several years before his death, he was a leader of the opposition to the war in Vietnam. At the beginning of Apr. 1968 he went to Memphis to participate in a sanitation workers' strike. On Apr. 3, the night before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel, he gave his "Mountain-top" speech at the Masonic Temple in Memphis. In this speech he said that he dreamed of an America free of racism and full of freedom. His ministry and witness are commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Apr. 4.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.