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Remembering the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: a short biography

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929. His father and grandfather were both Baptist preachers and civil rights leaders (his grandfather, the Rev. A.D. Williams, founded Atlanta's NAACP chapter).

A motivated student, the young King entered Morehouse College, in Atlanta, at the age of 15. By his senior year, he had decided to enter the ministry, and he went on to spend the next three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa. At Crozer, he studied Mohandas Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent protest, as well as Protestant theology.

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After receiving his bachelor of divinity, Dr. King earned a PhD in systematic theology from Boston University. While in Boston, he met Coretta Scott, who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. They married in 1953, and had four children.

The Kings moved to Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, where King began his involvement in the civil rights movement.

On Dec. 5, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, launching the Montgomery bus boycott. King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, dedicated to boycotting the transit system. As a result of the group's efforts, Montgomery buses were desegregated in 1956.

Building on his success, King then organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, working with religious and civil rights leaders at home and abroad. He supported the student sit-ins in 1960, and was arrested at an Atlanta lunch counter - which led to a call from presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

In 1963, King was again arrested, in Birmingham, Ala., where he wrote his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," explaining the importance of nonviolent protest. Subsequent demonstrations culminated that year in the March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech to 250,000 demonstrators.

The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 - the same year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the following years, he broadened his vision beyond the plight of the black community, protesting economic injustice and the Vietnam War. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society