Martin Luther King was brought up in a Christian household; his father was active in the civil rights movement and young Martin was aware of the unfair treatment of black people from an early age. He protested against the Vietnam War and on behalf of poor people. He was also impressed by Mahatma Gandhi’s use of non-violence in his campaign against British rule in India.
The southern United States where Martin Luther King was born commonly treated black people as being inferior to white people. As a result, the condition of black people in those states was poor. Laws aimed at keeping black and white people apart meant that black people had poorer living conditions and schooling and had fewer rights than white people. Laws treated black people unfairly and prevented nearly all of them from having the vote, even in states where they formed the majority of the population. This meant that they had little political power and their interests were ignored. Because the laws had kept people apart, many white people believed they were superior to black people.
Although a civil rights campaign had been protesting against these injustices since before WW1, only limited progress had been made. Martin Luther King’s involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference marked him out from an early age as a gifted campaigner.
His intelligence, his speechmaking skills, his courage and his insistence on the use of non-violent means of protest such as marches, sit-ins and boycotts, helped to make civil rights the most important issue in American public life by the 1960s. New laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act helped to improve the situation of black people.
Martin Luther King’s achievements and abilities were admired and celebrated by people the world over. He received many awards for his courageous leadership and vision. His speeches and writings still have the power to inspire people today.
Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I Have a Dream” Speech
Martin Luther King Jr – I Have a Dream Speech – Colourised
Martin Luther King: Dream On
A woman remembers how she was taken by her father in 1963 to Washington to hear a man talk. At first, she couldn’t understand why her father would drag her along to hear a man giving a speech that seemed to go on and on. She remembers how the crowd began to respond to the speaker and how as he brought his speech to its climax the crowds began to shout and cheer – herself included
Face To Face
Filmed two years before Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech, this interview explores some of the earliest experiences that were to shape King’s political consciousness. The interview teases out the realities of segregation through King’s memories of not being allowed to use the swimming pool, approach the lunch counter in local stores to buy a hamburger, or go to a ‘white’ high school. But in 1955, the refusal by Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat to a white man catapulted 26-year-old King’s name to national status when he emerged as a leader of a 381-day boycott of Montgomery’s buses.
CBBC: Our Black History Heroes – Martin Luther King
5 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr:
- Martin was a gifted student and was awarded several university degrees, becoming a Doctor of Divinity.
- Martin Luther King was appointed president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which led the boycott of the Montgomery bus services.
- Martin Luther King was a very brave man who believed in non violent protest. During the course of his campaign his house was bombed, he was arrested on numerous occasions and he was stabbed. Finally he was shot at the age of 39.
- Dr King was a very powerful orator (speech maker). His most famous speech, I Have A Dream, was delivered to an audience of 250,000 people.
- Following Martin Luther King’s murder a national day of mourning was declared in the USA, Martin Luther King Day, held on the third Monday of January, is now a public holiday in the USA.
Did you know?
- Martin Luther was born Michael Luther King but his father later changed both of their names to Martin.
- The original Martin Luther was a German Protestant who wanted to reform the Catholic Church.
- Martin Luther King was so clever that he was two years ahead at school and he started his college education at the age of 15.
- At age 35 he was the youngest-ever person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Over 750 streets in the United States are named after him.