Saint Xavier University (SXU) celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Any number of historic moments in the civil-rights struggle have been used to identify King – prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, and overturning Jim Crow segregation laws. But in retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King, and his policy of nonviolent protest, was the dominant force in the civil-rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
King was born on Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Ga. – one of three children of Martin Luther King Sr., a pastor and Alberta Williams King, a former school teacher.
After going to grammar school and high school, in 1941 King enrolled in Morehouse College at the young age of 15. Although he never intended to join the ministry, he changed his mind under the mentorship of Morehouse’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays, an influential theologian and outspoken advocate for racial equality. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He completed his coursework in 1953 and earned a doctorate in systematic theology two years later.
While in Boston he met Coretta Scott. The couple returned south, were married in 1953, and went on to have four children: Yolanda Denise King (1955-2007), Martin Luther King III (born 1957), Dexter Scott King (born 1961), and Bernice Albertine King (born 1963).
King made his first mark on the civil-rights movement, by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the Montgomery, Ala. Bus lines. Here, he overcame arrest and other violent harassment, including the bombing of his home.
A national hero and civil-rights figure of growing importance, King summoned together a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the organization now known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
King’s nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality was used against the marchers, which left a large impact on the view of the situation across the nation. King was arrested and wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to make sure his voice was not silenced.
Later that year, King worked with a number of civil-rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington, where he delivered one of the most passionate addresses of his career. Time magazine voted him as its Person of the Year and a few months later he was named the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest person ever awarded this honor.
In the spring of 1965, King led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. The violence between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators showcased a brutal scene captured on television, which outraged many Americans and inspired supporters to get involved in the civil-rights movement all across the nation.
King then brought his civil-rights efforts to Chicago, where he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide housing. However, he soon discovered that in the North, they cared very little for his pleas for peaceful protest. Their reaction to King’s efforts caused him to rally behind a new cause: the war in Vietnam. As a result, King’s focus was based on equal support for peace and civil-rights. With this in mind, he began to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C. for the poor and envisioned a demonstration of such intensity and size that Congress would have to recognize and deal with the huge number of desperate and broken Americans.
On April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the black-owned Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street, King was fatally shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. His death caused a wave of violence in major cities across the country.
However, King’s life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. His widow, Coretta Scott King really helped to push for his life and legacy to continue. As a result, King has been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C.
SXU will be closing our offices on Monday, Jan. 15 in honor of King and will celebrate his legacy Tuesday, Jan. 17 through Friday, Jan. 20. Through this week of events, SXU community members will be called upon to reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his teachings on the interrelated structure of society.
Additionally, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website, allows for Americans across the country to come together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities.