Essay on King

This essay has a total of 4123 words and 17 pages.


Life of King

Jan. 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
Nationality: American
Occupation: civil rights leader
Occupation: minister (religion)
Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in the Atlanta home of his maternal
grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams (1863 — 1931). He was the second child and the first
son of Michael King Sr. (1897 — 1984) and Alberta Christine Williams King (1903 —
1974). Michael Jr. had an older sister, Willie Christine (b. 1927), and a younger brother,
Alfred Daniel Williams (b. 1930). The father and later the son adopted the name Martin
Luther, after the religious figure who founded the Lutheran denomination.

The family background was rooted in rural Georgia. A.D. Williams was already a minister
himself when he moved from the country to Atlanta in 1893. There he took over a small
struggling church with some 13 members, Ebenezer Baptist. In 1899 Williams married Jennie
Celeste Parks (1873 — 1941). The couple had one child that survived, Alberta Christine,
M.L. King Jr.'s mother. A.D. Williams was a forceful preacher who built Ebenezer into a
major church.

Michael King Sr. came to Atlanta in 1918. He had known the hard life of a sharecropper in
a poor farming country. His father, James Albert King (1864 — 1933), was irreligious,
became an alcoholic, and beat his wife, Delia Linsey King (1873 — 1924). In the fall of
1926, Michael Sr. married Alberta Williams after a courtship of some eight years. The
newlyweds moved into A. D. Williams's home.

When Williams died in 1931, Michael King Sr. followed in his father-in-law's footsteps as
pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. King, too, became a very successful minister. The King
children grew up in a secure and loving environment. As King Jr. said in "An Autobiography
of Religious Development," an essay written for a class at Crozer Seminary when he was 23:
"It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family
where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present."

King Sr. was inclined to be a severe disciplinarian, but his wife's firm gentleness —
which was by no means permissive — generally carried the day. The parents could not, of
course, shield the young boy from racism. King Sr. did not endure racism meekly; in
showing open impatience with segregation and its effects and in discouraging the
development of a sense of class superiority in his children, King Sr. influenced his son

King Jr. entered public school when he was five. On May 1, 1936, King joined his father's
church, being baptized two days later. His conversion was not dramatic — he simply
followed his sister when she went forward. A period of questioning religion began with
adolescence and lasted through his early college years. He felt uncomfortable with overly
emotional religion, and this discomfort initially led him to decide against entering the

Jennie Williams, King Jr.'s grandmother, died of a heart attack on May 18, 1941, during a
Woman's Day program at Ebenezer. The death was traumatic for her grandson, especially
since it happened while he was watching a parade despite his parents' prohibitions.
Distraught, he seems to have attempted suicide by leaping from a second-story window of
the family home. He wept on and off for days and had difficulty sleeping.

King studied in the public schools of Atlanta, spent time at the Atlanta Laboratory School
until it closed in 1942, and then entered public high school in the tenth grade, skipping
a grade. After completing his junior year at Booker T. Washington High School, he entered
Morehouse College in the fall of 1944 at the age of 15. Since the war had taken away most
young men, Morehouse, a men's college, turned to young entrants in desperation.

Attends Morehouse
The five-foot seven-inch tall King was a ladies' man and loved to dance. He was an
indifferent student who completed Morehouse with a grade point average of 2.48 on a
four-point scale. At first King was determined not to become a minister, and he majored in
sociology. Under the influence of his junior-year Bible class, however, he renewed his
faith. Although he did not return to a literal belief in scripture, King began to envision
a career in the ministry. In the fall of his senior year he told his father of his
decision. King Jr. preached his trial sermon at Ebenezer with great success. On February
25, 1948, he was ordained and became associate pastor at Ebenezer.

King decided to attend Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, a very
liberal school. King rose to the challenges of Crozer, earning the respect of both his
professors and classmates. In addition to becoming the valedictorian of his class in 1951,
he was also elected student body president, won a prize as outstanding student, and earned
a fellowship for graduate study. During this time, King also rebelled against his father's
conservatism and now made no secret about drinking beer, smoking, and playing pool. He
became enamored of a white woman and went through a difficult time before he could bring
himself to break off the affair.

During his last year at Crozer, King began to read the iconoclastic theologian Reinhold
Niebuhr. Niebuhr and his challenge to liberal theology — and thus, to King's own ideas
at the time — became the most important single influence on King's intellectual
development, far surpassing his later interest in Mahatma Gandhi. After being accepted for
doctoral study at Yale University, Boston University, and in Edinburgh, Scotland, he
enrolled in graduate school at Boston University in the fall of 1951.

As King pursued his graduate studies, he also sought a wife. Early in 1952 he met Coretta
Scott, an aspiring singer. She was the daughter of Obie and Bernice Scott, born in
Heiberger, Alabama, on April 27, 1927. Growing up on her father's farm, she learned to
work hard before attending Antioch College. King's parents opposed the marriage at first,
but King prevailed and the marriage took place in June of 1953. King Jr. and Coretta had
four children: Yolanda (b. November 17, 1955), Martin Luther III (b. October 23, 1957),
Dexter (b. January 30, 1961), and Bernice Albertine (b. March 28, 1963).

In September of 1954 while still working on his dissertation, King became pastor of the
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King completed his Ph.D. dissertation
comparing the religious views of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, and was awarded the
degree in June of 1955. In November of 1990, scholars confirmed that significant parts of
King's dissertation had been taken from the work of a fellow student, Jack Boozer, and one
of the subjects of his dissertation, Paul Tillich.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham bus,
setting off a chain of events that catapulted King to world fame. Several groups within
Montgomery's black community decided to take action against segregated seating on the city
buses. The NAACP, the Women's Political Council, the Baptist Ministers Conference, and the
city's African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zionist ministers united with the community to
organize a bus boycott. After a successful beginning of the boycott on Monday, the
Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) came into being that afternoon, and King accepted
the presidency. His oratory at that evening's mass meeting roused the crowd's enthusiasm,
and the boycott continued. It took 381 days of struggle to bring the boycott to a
successful conclusion.

As MIA leader, King became the focus of white hatred. On the afternoon of January 26, King
was arrested for the first time, spending some time in jail before being released. About
midnight he was awakened by a hate phone call. As he sat thinking of the dangers to his
family, he had his first profound religious experience. As he wrote in Stride Toward

At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him
before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying:
"Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever."

On January 30, the King home was bombed. The bombing inspired the MIA to file a federal
suit directly attacking the laws establishing bus segregation. In the second half of
February the white establishment decided to arrest nearly 100 blacks for violating
Alabama's anti-boycott law. These arrests focused national attention on Montgomery. King
was arrested, tried, and convicted on March 22. The following weekend he gave his first
speeches in the North.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws requiring bus segregation. Montgomery's
mayor refused to yield. After long legal procedures, the Supreme Court's order to end bus
segregation was served in Montgomery on Thursday, December 20, 1956. Despite jeopardized
jobs, intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan, police harassment, and bombings, the success of
the boycott became apparent when King and several allies boarded a public bus in front of
King's home on December 21, 1956.

King was in Atlanta when five bombs went off at parsonages and churches in Montgomery in
the early morning of January 10, 1957. On this date, a two-day meeting was scheduled to
begin in Ebenezer Baptist Church to lay out plans to create an organization to maintain
the momentum of the movement for change throughout the South. King returned to Montgomery
to inspect the bomb damage, and was present for only the final hours of the meeting. In a
follow-up meeting in New Orleans on February 14, the group adopted the name Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and elected King president. King made his first
trip abroad to attend the independence ceremonies in Ghana on March 5, 1958. In June, King
received the NAACP's Spingarn Medal for his leadership.

King and his organization became increasingly estranged from the NAACP's Roy Wilkins, who
feared the effect of another mass black organization on the NAACP's branches in the South
and also disapproved of the SCLC's call for direct action. Nonetheless, King pressed
forward and the SCLC's plans for a voter registration drive beginning in 1958 went
forward. In need of a capable organizer at the Atlanta office, the SCLC's first choice was
Bayard Rustin, who was a very effective worker but also vulnerable to smears because of
his homosexuality. Rustin found a role at SCLC in a less visible position. Ella Baker came
to Atlanta to take Rustin's place and shouldered much of the initial burden of
organizational work for the SCLC. In spite of her efforts, the 1958 Lincoln Day launch of
the voter registration drive failed to attract much attention, and the SCLC seemed on the
point of disappearing.

As King was writing his book on the Montgomery boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, he
benefited from the very frank criticism of white New York lawyer Stanley D. Levinson, who
became one of King's most trusted advisors. Levinson was also a key factor in the FBI's
later surveillance of King: there were allegations of a connection between Levinson and
the Communist Party that formed one of the legal bases for wiretaps of King's telephone
communications. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover ordered those wiretaps as well as surveillance
of King, of King's advisors outside the SCLC, and of their relationships to Communism and
homosexuality. The FBI hoped to use the information to discredit King and his

In June of 1958, King joined A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and National Urban League
leader Lester B. Granger in an unsatisfactory meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In September King was again arrested in Montgomery as he tried to enter a courtroom. King
decided to serve his 14-day jail sentence for refusing to obey an officer rather than pay
the $14 fine. He avoided jail time, however, as the police commissioner paid the fine to
avoid the publicity King would have garnered. After this police incident, while at a book
signing, King was critically stabbed by a deranged black woman.
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