This Day in History: 1929-01-15

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pastor, Civil Rights Leader, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929.

As the grandson of the Rev. A.D. Williams, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church and a founder of Atlanta’s NAACP chapter, and the son of Martin Luther King, Sr., who succeeded Williams as Ebenezer’s pastor, Dr. King’s roots were in the African American Baptist church. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, King went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University in Massachusetts, where he deepened his understanding of theological scholarship and explored Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy for social change.

Dr. King married Coretta Scott in 1953, and the following year he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955.

On December 5, 1955, after Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery’s segregation policy on buses, Black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott continued throughout 1956 and King gained national prominence for his role in the campaign. In December 1956 the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional and Montgomery buses were desegregated.

Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, King and other southern Black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta in 1957.

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