M. L. King
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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the 20th century's most outstanding personalities. His successful non-violent fight against the discrimination of Blacks in the United States was inspired by the thoughts and methods used by Gandhi. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The following text outlines the main events in his life and the effect that King had before, like Gandhi, he was assassinated. This section on Martin Luther King Jr. also includes the following features:

Life and work: The key events in Martin Luther King's life are listed and linked to the rest of this section along with background information.

Quotes and speeches: In addition to a brief collection of quotations, this page features two of Martin Luther King's most famous speeches including an audio file for downloading.

Background: In addition to a short chronology on the civil rights movement, this page offers important background information for help in understanding Martin Luther King's work.

Materials: This page provides a collection of texts about King and includes a piece from Prof. H. Grosse on the importance of Martin Luther King for us all today - reading this is an absolute must!

Link list: Selected websites offering information on Martin Luther King have been selected to make your Internet research easier.


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
[Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.]

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Victory using non-violence — Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

A son was born to the Baptist Minister James King and his wife, Alberta, in the state of Georgia on 15th of January 1929. According to local tradition the child was named after a prominent role model: Martin Luther. (...)

He couldn't possibly have guessed that this city would provide his life's main goal

Martin Luther enjoyed the privilege of a school education and later went on to study at college. He worked hard to prepare himself for life. After completing a degree in sociology, he had the choice of many promising jobs and decided upon a position in Montgomery. He couldn't possibly have guessed that this city would provide his life's main goal.
Montgomery is the capital of Alabama and is situated in the southern states of the US. It was a city suffering from racial tensions. This young Baptist Church priest was witness to constant injustices perpetrated against fellow members of his community.
King was, however, not totally unprepared for this situation. During his studies he had often recognized the problems faced by the black community in America. He had also considered possible structural changes, which he regarded as being essential if whites and blacks were to live together in peace. He had been influenced to a large degree by the life and work of Gandhi. He believed that violence only led to violence. He became more and more convinced that the use of non-violence as a means of reaching the ultimate goal of improving America's racial problems was the only real solution. His theoretical basis was Jesus. His practical base was the methods used by Gandhi.

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The black population decided to boycott the Montgomery city bus lines

The fight began quickly. On the 1st December 1955 an everyday occurrence thrust Martin Luther King onto the vortex of a struggle which had all the markings of violence. Rosa Parks, seamstress in a department store, boarded a city bus and sat in the first row of seats in the black section of the bus. She was tired from her day's work. The white section of the bus was full. When some more white passengers got on the bus the driver ordered a group of blacks to vacate their seats and go and stand at the back for the remainder of the journey. Three passengers did as they were told - they were clearly used to this form of treatment. Weary and tired, Rosa Parks refused quietly to give up her seat. The driver called the police and Mrs. Parks was arrested - another daily occurrence. But this time it was different. The black population decided to boycott the Montgomery bus lines in an attempt to stand up for their rights. A large meeting was organized. The president of this civil action was the young Baptist preacher Dr. Martin Luther King. He spoke up for non-violent implementation of the boycott.

The blacks began using the buses again in Montgomery on 21st December 1956

It is still fascinating to read about all the efforts made by Montgomery's black community to manage without buses; blacks walked, rode on bikes or used their own vehicles and the main routes into town were serviced by carpools. A year later the US Supreme Court declared that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. The blacks began using the buses again in Montgomery on 21st December 1956. The discrimination that had been widespread on the buses in previous years was lifted.

Martin Luther King had carried out his responsibilities as president with grace in the face of threat and violence. Following a bomb attack on his house and family, many in the black community called for an armed struggle. King promised the angry crowd: "We cannot solve this problem by using violence to answer violence."

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He compared the US constitution and the Declaration of Independence with a cheque that had not been cashed

King was called to attend demonstrations, to make speeches and to preach everywhere. He took on this challenge in an untiring way, roused the crowds and strengthened their awareness of the need for non-violent resistance. The victory in Montgomery had given fire to the civil rights movement. Rather than stopping half way, the aim now was to stand up for the rights of blacks across America. The climax of the campaign came in August 1963 with a peaceful march on Washington. Hundreds and thousands of people had heard the call and attended the march. They gathered in the open. Martin Luther King delivered a speech to this unique demonstration that would leave a lasting impression on America. He compared the US constitution and the Declaration of Independence with a cheque which, as far as America's blacks were concerned, had not been cashed. Instead this cheque carried the stamp "insufficient funds". "But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt". Calling for "Freedom Now" (...) he castigated police brutality, lack of access to public facilities, restrictions of the freedom of movement, racial segregation and the withdrawal of voting rights. He ended his speech with his now world-famous sentences: "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, (Yes) we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

[You will find the complete text to this famous speech in the "quotes and speeches" section: I have a dream]

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Martin Luther King didn't live long enough to witness the third victory

(...) The civil rights movement claimed success after success. The civil rights law passed in 1964 declared that facilities offering food, accommodation, entertainment or petrol were prohibited from implementing any kind of discrimination. All those who could prove a minimum of six years education were entitled to vote. All discrimination in the workplace was forbidden.
In 1965, a further law improved still further the right to vote for blacks. King didn't live long enough to witness the third victory. On the 10th April 1968 a proposed law was accepted which put an end to discrimination in the buying and selling of houses and in the renting of apartments.

The world was shocked to hear the news: Dr. Martin Luther King has been assassinated

The world had been watching closely the events in America. This was reflected and honored in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King. During their visit to Stockholm to receive the prize, Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta, used the opportunity to visit several European countries while campaigning for civil rights and non-violent protest.
On the 4th of April 1968, the world was shocked to hear the news: Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. He had arrived in Memphis to attend a large civil rights gathering. Police excesses against colored refuse workers meant that dark clouds were reappearing on the horizon. King expected to die a violent death. Nevertheless, he refused to let this interfere with his efforts to stand up for his ostracized fellow citizens. He was convinced that all racial discrimination could be overcome one day.
"The principle of non-violent protest died with Martin Luther King. To think that it could still be rescued would be self-deception". These hard words were written by a journalist following his murder. The increase in violent clashes following his death would seem to confirm these fears. But what would be the consequences should the demand for non-violence fall silent? The idea of non-violence should not be allowed to die.

[Taken from: Gerhard Zimmermann, Sie widerstanden, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1995, 55ff.]

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SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Examples  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods



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