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History Lesson: MLK Day

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Born January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia by the name of Michael Luther King Jr., MLK would grow up to become one of America's most recognizable figures. And yes, he did indeed change his name from Michael to Martin. That's why you know him as Martin Luther King Jr. instead of Michael Luther King Jr.

While we celebrate his legacy on MLK Day, apparently not many Americans are as familiar with his background as they should be. Let's venture back into history to discover how this young man blossomed into a leader and what he did to help start the civil rights movement.

The Making of a Legend

Having been raised by a family of pastors in his home congregation of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, young Martin was well versed when it came to the scriptures and teachings of Jesus Christ. He attended segregated public schools in the state of Georgia, graduating high school at the early age of fifteen before enrolling in Morehouse College. He received a B.A. Degree from Morehouse in 1948 and then went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of the mostly white graduating class. He earned his B.D. From Crozer in 1951 and then proceeded to begin a fellowship he had won. During this time, MLK enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University where he received his doctorate in 1953. While attending school in Boston, Martin met and married a woman by the name of Coretta Scott. The two of them would go on to welcome two sons and two daughters into the world. His faith played an important role in all that he did, including his education and his work as a civil rights leader.

Civil Rights Contributions

By 1954, Martin Luther King Jr. had already earned a reputation as a strong leader when it came to race relations. He was the practicing pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama when the civil rights movement started to gain momentum. At this time, MLK was also a member of the NAACP's executive committee. (NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) The following year, Martin accepted the leadership role for the first nonviolent demonstration that turned the tides - the bus boycott. Having lasted 382 days, the boycott came to an end when the Supreme Court declared the laws requiring segregation on buses as unconstitutional. From this point forward, white and black Americans were to be treated as equals when utilizing public transportation.

Throughout his lifetime, Martin Luther King Jr. made it a point to demonstrate that progress can be made through means of peace. Throughout his 11 year tenure as the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, MLK traveled millions of miles and spoke at hundreds of events in areas where injustice was prevalent. While he was traveling and speaking, Martin also wrote a collection of books that would later be used by professors and educators when teaching about his legacy. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a personal manifesto that lays out his vision for a better America where all men and women are treated as equals. He also led the peaceful march on Washington D.C. where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” address to a crowd consisting of at least 250,000 people. While preparing to lead another protest march in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room. People from all walks of life and all over the country celebrate him and his contributions to the civil rights movement to this day every year on his birthday.

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