Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael Luther King, Jr. and lived from January 15, 1929, through April 4, 1968. His grandfather, who served as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta from 1914 until 1931, started the family’s protracted tenure there; his father has since taken over, and Martin Luther has served as co-pastor since 1960 until his death. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, where he completed high school at the age of fifteen. He earned his B.A. from Morehouse College, a prestigious black university in Atlanta, where both his father and grandfather had received their degrees, in 1948.

He received the B.D. in 1951 after three years of theology study at Pennsylvania’s Crozer Theological Seminary, where he was named class president of a senior class that was largely white. With the aid of a grant he had received at Crozer, he began graduate work at Boston University, finishing his residency in 1953 and earning his Ph.D. in 1955. Coretta Scott, a young woman with exceptional intellectual and creative abilities, was someone he met in Boston and later married. The family welcomed two daughters and two sons into the world.

Martin Luther King was appointed pastor of Montgomery, Alabama’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954. King, who has always been a steadfast advocate for the rights of people of color, was by this point a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s premier organization of its sort. Early in December 1955, he was prepared to take the helm of the bus boycott, which Gunnar Jahn had just described in his address honoring the laureate as the first significant Negro nonviolent movement in modern times in the United States. 382 days passed during the boycott.

Blacks and whites rode the buses together on December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the statutes requiring bus segregation were unconstitutional. King suffered personal abuse, had his home bombed, and was incarcerated during these days of the boycott, but he also rose to prominence as a top-tier Negro leader.

A group established to offer fresh leadership for the now-emerging civil rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, elected him president in 1957. He borrowed Gandhi’s operating methods and Christianity’s guiding principles for this organization. King appeared everywhere there was injustice, protest, and action over the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, traveling more than six million miles and giving over 250 speeches. In the meantime, he produced five books and a plethora of articles.

He provided what he called a coalition of conscience during these years, leading a major protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that attracted the attention of the entire world. He organized the drives in Alabama for the registration of Black voters, serving as inspiration for his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a document that served as the Negro revolution’s platform.

He oversaw the 250,000-person peaceful march on Washington, D.C., where he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech; met with President John F. Kennedy; ran for president Lyndon B. Johnson; was assaulted at least four times; was arrested several times; received five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and not only became the symbol of American blacks but also a global figure.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, receiving it at the age of 35. He declared that he will donate the $54,123 award money to the advancement of the civil rights movement after learning of his selection.

He was shot and killed on the evening of April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was about to lead a protest march in support of the city’s striking trash workers.


For the majority of Americans, Dr. King will always be associated with his uttering soul-shaking, transformative truths while in front of a microphone. Whether he’s speaking about “Give Us the Ballot” or “I Have a Dream,” his lectures forcefully analyze the health of American democracy and exhort this country to be its best selves. One of the most potent social justice statements ever made from a prison cell is his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“…I am aware of how connected all communities and states are. I can’t just watch indifferently from Atlanta and not care about what occurs in Birmingham. Justice worldwide is threatened by injustice everywhere. We are bound together in a single garment of destiny, entangled in an unbreakable web of reciprocity. Everything that directly affects one indirectly affects everyone. We can never again afford to accept the constrictive, rural notion of an “outside agitator.” No one who resides in the United States can ever be regarded as an outsider there. – Letter to Birmingham Jail from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’s exceptional oratory and persuasive skills, meanwhile, were just one factor in his rise to prominence as a civil rights activist. His willingness to make sacrifices for his principles earned him the respect of people all around the nation. This meant that Dr. King frequently consented to being detained in custody and arrested.

In fact, this is how the LDF attorneys first met Dr. King. Throughout his tenure as leader, LDF attorneys stood up for him in Selma in 1965, the 1963 Birmingham campaign, and numerous other locations in the South. As recounted in his celebrated biography, Crusaders in the Courts, Jack Greenberg, who replaced Thurgood Marshall, the founder of LDF, as its President and Director-Counsel, noted, “When a great leader of the mass movement appeared, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., LDF was his lawyer.”

Constance Baker Motley, an attorney for the LDF who eventually became a federal judge, recounted meeting Dr. King when he was being held in a remote jail alongside Ralph Abernathy close to Americus, Georgia. The jail’s conditions, which Motley visited with two local Black attorneys, are horrifying, according to her description:

“The three of us went in. I instantly ran back out, overcome by the stench… I finally decided that I had to go inside and talk to King. I saw him and Abernathy in their four-by-six-foot cell. It was July or August. The temperature must have been a hundred degrees. We could hear other prisoners in a back room yelling and moaning. Since the prison food was not edible, some women had brought food for King and Abernathy, which their jailers had placed uncovered on a table outside their cell and by then it was covered with hundreds of flies. King and Abernathy usually fasted while in jail. We spent at least an hour there without seeing anyone.”

LDF urges Americans to remember not just Dr. King’s words but also his courage and sacrifice in the pursuit of justice as we commemorate his life and leadership. King’s comments, which were strong, uplifting, and devastating in their honesty, came from this deep well of courage, from his conviction that every person has a duty to struggle for justice, and from his sincere affection for all people.

LDF had the honor of standing in for Dr. King; visiting him in his time of need; advising him and other activists as they prepared for the Poor People’s March in 1968; and seeing his leadership ascend from Montgomery to Memphis. Lawyers for civil rights are witnesses to our clients’ tribulations, sacrifices, and anxieties. By doing this, we are able to witness their courage up close.

We commemorate all of our clients today as we honor Dr. King, from Fayette, Georgia, to St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, from Birmingham, Alabama, to New York City, and from all the towns in between where courageous men and women have decided to stand up for justice.

And as we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we can see how freedom has permeated all of human history. In order to follow Dr. King’s example and be present wherever injustice exists, we must adopt this pattern daily. Unflinching in our quest for fair justice for all.

“We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights.” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Download The Radiant App To Start Watching!

Web: Watch Now

LGTV™: Download

ROKU™: Download

XBox™: Download

Samsung TV™: Download

Amazon Fire TV™: Download

Android TV™: Download