The history and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. King fought for civil rights throughout his life. Photo by Gotta Be Worth It from Pexels.

On Jan. 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia to parents Michael King Sr. and Alberta King. The younger King was originally named Michael at birth until his father visited Germany in 1934. During that trip, the elder King saw the rise of Nazism and was moved to hear how the Baptist alliance — the fruit of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses — denounced this hatred and deplored “all racial animosity, and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews, toward coloured people, or toward subject races in any part of the world.” Once he returned from Germany, the elder King renamed himself and his son after German monk Martin Luther. 

Dr. King attended Morehouse College in Atlanta starting at the age of 15 and graduated at 19 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He earned his Ph.D in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. 

The younger King is best known for his role in the civil rights movement. On Nov. 17, 1961, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other organizations to protest racial segregation laws in Albany, Georgia.  

The most famous moment in King’s life came on Aug. 28, 1963, when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama, little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers,” King said during his speech. 

Another important moment from King’s legacy is his role in the march to Montgomery in 1965, when he, the SCLC and the SNCC, marched from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. to help register Black voters. Only 2% of eligible Black voters were able to register to vote during the march because of police blockades ordered by Alabama Governor George Wallace. This included having Alabama state troopers use tear gas and night sticks to intimidate marchers from registering Black people to vote.  

As a result of the march to Montgomery, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, guaranteeing all Black people the right to vote.  

King continued to fight for civil rights throughout his life. On Apr. 4, 1968, he gave a speech in Memphis, Tennessee defending the right for public service to unionize. King’s life was tragically cut short by an assassination later that day. 

To honor King’s legacy, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created as a federal holiday in 1983. The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January, and it was first officially observed on Jan. 20, 1986.  

At the University of Connecticut, an “MLK Day of Service” was hosted on Monday and it was sponsored by UConn’s Community Outreach. The event featured topics such as healthcare, education and foreign policy.   

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