Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929–1968
American orator and essayist.
The following entry provides an overview of King's career.
King was the leader of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. His nonviolent approach to social reform and political activism, characterized by mass marches and large gatherings designed to demonstrate both the widespread acceptance of the tenets of civil rights and the barbarism of those who opposed them, contrasted with the confrontational methods espoused by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. King's Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963) and the 1963 speech in which he declared "I Have a Dream" are considered the written landmarks of the movement. Today they are counted among history's great statements of human rights.
King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and was raised in a middle-class family. Following the lead of his father and grandfathers, he pursued a theological education. He studied the works of Walter Rauschenbusch, who contended that the church must work to undo social injustices, and those of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who espoused a philosophy of nonviolence. In the fall of 1951 he began his doctoral studies at Boston University and received his Ph. D. in systematic theology in 1955. That same year he rose to prominence in the civil rights movement by organizing a protest in support of Rosa Parks, a black woman who was arrested in Alabama for sitting in a "whites only" section of a public bus. Near the end of 1962 he began working to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama. His leadership produced an agreement with the Justice Department that led to the desegregation of lunch counters, restrooms, fitting rooms, and drinking fountains. In 1963 King helped plan a massive march on Washington, D.C., where an estimated 250,000 people were on hand to hear him present his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize. His campaign for voting rights, concentrated in Selma, Alabama, was met with violence from both police and civilians and resulted in President Lyndon Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law. King continued his social campaigns until April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee.
King's written works reflect his heritage in the traditions of the southern black church as well as his knowledge of western philosophy. In Why We Can't Wait (1964), an account of his efforts to desegregate Birmingham, and Where Do We Go from Here? (1967), his response to the Black Power movement, King utilizes the Israelites' exodus from Egypt as a metaphor for the civil rights movement and suggests nonviolent solutions to the problem of social injustice. King further implements biblical theology, along with the philosophies of Gandhi and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in Stride toward Freedom (1958), a discussion of the events leading up to the Montgomery bus boycott. In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King paints a vision of a "promised land" of justice and racial equality. In the celebrated Letter from Birmingham City Jail, a commentary directed at his critics, King again displays his sermonic style and use of biblical allusions and rhetoric. Reminiscent of St. Paul's writings, the Letter has been described by Stephen Oates as "a classic in protest literature, the most elegant and learned expression of the goals and philosophy of the nonviolent movement ever written." Wesley T. Mott also commends King for harnessing "the profound emotional power of the old Negro sermon for purposes of social action."
Although often praised for their emotional power and widespread appeal, King's writings have been faulted for relying too heavily on rhetorical flourishes and for not offering concrete solutions to the social, political, and economic problems they address. In a review of Where Do We Go from Here? Andrew Kopkind commented that although King had worthy goals, he had "no real notion of how they are to be attained, or to what they may lead." In addition, nearly twenty-five years after his death, Clay-borne Carson—who had been engaged by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, to compile a collection of her husband's writings—announced that King may have plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation and other writings. These disclosures prompted scores of newspaper editorials and other responses arguing that the allegations had no bearing on King's contributions to the civil rights movement. In 1990 a New York Times editorial stated that King's "achievement glows unchallenged through the present shadow, [his] courage was not copied; and there was no plagiarism in his power."
Martin Luther King Jr's Impact on the Civil Rights Movement Essay
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Martin Luther King Jr's Impact on the Civil Rights Movement
Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech directly contributed to the Civil Rights movement. While delivering his speech at a kairotic moment, King tells us how blacks have been serving an injustice and that they should be treated equally.
Much had transpired before the speech was delivered. As civil rights protests spread throughout the nation, King continued to combine peaceful methods of protest and his theological training to work towards the hope of equal rights for blacks (Kauffeld and Lefrd, 1989). During this time, blacks were not treated equally and were often denied service. King was trying to get the merchants and the government officials to negotiate on…show more content…
He was able to find a proper and fitting response to the injustices of African-Americans. He spoke on a subject many didn't care to hear about, the deep injustice of segregation. The Kennedy administration had stalled on the issue and even avoided supporting the civil rights demonstration which King spoke of ( 2000). To King, this offered an opportunity to end the delay that the Civil War's promises had made. He knew he wasn't just talking to protestors, but also the Kennedy administration, to white Americans apathetic and unaware of the injustice, and also to segregationists and racists (Rappaport, 2002). In this speech, King planted his place as first among equals in civil rights leadership. "From this first televised mass meeting, an American audience saw and heard the unedited oratory of America's finest preacher, and for the first time, a mass white audience heard the undeniable justice for black demands" (Seattle Times, 4 April 1993). King said "There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship."
Senator Hubert Humphrey said "all this probably hasn't changed any votes on the civil rights bill, but it's a good thing for Washington and the nation of the world." And Senator David Lewis says that the speech exceeds as an emotional oratory. This shows that the speech was good for America and the speech had a lot of emotion, but it according to these Senators, it may not have changed