Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King was ordained a minister in 1948. He studied for degrees in divinity and theology, obtaining a doctorate from Boston University in 1955. In Boston, he met Coretta Scott, a music student whom he married in 1953. In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which organised a year long boycott against segregated public transportation. The boycott was successful, and Dr. King was catapulted to prominence in the civil rights struggle against racial injustice. For a decade King was world-famous for his nonviolent struggle against discrimination and race prejudice. As a consequence of massive demonstrations against racial discrimination in Birmingham and Alabama, President John F. Kennedy proposed a wide-ranging civil rights bill to the U.S. Congress.
Dr. King was the principal leader of the historic March on Washington in 1963 by 250 000 Americans, including many whites. The high point of the rally was King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech, which eloquently defined the moral basis of the civil rights movement. In 1964 the U.S. Congress, during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the Civil Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education. In 1964, Dr King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - the youngest Peace Laureate in history.
In 1967, King became more critical of American society than ever before. He began to plan a Poor People's Campaign that would unite poor people of all races in a struggle for economic opportunity. In the midst of plans for a "Poor People's March on Washington,' Dr King made the second of two trips to Memphis, to support a strike of garbage collectors for better wages and improved working conditions. There, on April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed. James Earl Ray, a white escaped convict pleaded guilty to the crime in March 1969 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. People around the world mourned Dr. King's death. After his death, King remained a controversial symbol of the African-American civil rights struggle, revered by many for his martyrdom on behalf of non-violence and condemned by others for his militancy and insurgent views. In 1983, the U.S. Congress declared a federal holiday honoring King. The day is celebrated in the United States on the third Monday in January.
'We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process. Ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree."
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
"Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace. We must combine the fervor of the civil rights movement with the peace movement. We must demonstrate, teach, and preach, until the very foundations of our nation are shaken. We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.
'The physical casualties of the war in Vietnam are not alone the catastrophes. The casualties of principles and values are equally disastrous and injurious. Indeed, they are ultimately more harmful because they are self-perpetuating. If the casualties of principle are not healed, the physical casualties will continue to mount."
"Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and goodwill toward men is the non-violent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God.
"The non-violent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality."
"If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk."
"The non-violent resister agrees with the person who acquiesces that one should not be physically aggressive toward his opponent; but he balances the equation by agreeing with the person of violence that evil must be resisted. He avoids the nonresistance of the former and the violent resistance of the latter. With non-violent resistance, no individual or group need submit to any wrong nor need anyone resort to violence in order to right a wrong."
"Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."
"Compassion and non-violence help us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."
"Our hope for creative living in this world house that we have inherited lies in our ability to re-establish the moral ends of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments."
"Direct action is not a substitute for work in the courts and the halls of government. Bringing about passage of a new and broad law by a city council, state legislature, or the Congress, or pleading cases before the courts of the land, does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of a city hall. Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another; when skillfully employed, each becomes more effective."
"Words cannot express the exultation felt by the individual as he finds himself, with hundreds of his fellows, behind prison bars for a cause he knows is just."
"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice."
"Human progress is neither automatic not inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action."
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."
"Morals cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. The law cannot make an employer love me, but it can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the colour of my skin."
"Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial."
"A child of no more than eight walked with her mother one day in a demonstration. An amused policeman leaned down to her and said with mock gruffness, 'What do you want?'
"The child looked into his eyes, unafraid, and gave her answer. 'Freedom,' she said.
She could not even pronounce the word, but no Gabriel trumpet could have sounded a truer note."