Martin Luther King Junior.
Dr King was born in the United States in 1928. His father was a minister of religion. Ministers of religion were often seen as the leaders of the African-American community. African-Americans almost never rose to other prominent positions in those days due to discrimination. It was almost impossible for them to be Congressmen, generals or judges.
His first name was Martin Luther. His father was also named Martin Luther King. Therefore the man who is the subject of this article was known as Martin Luther King Junior. The word junior is to distinguish him from his father. His surname was King. He went to university at the age of 16 and did very well. He completed a PhD which is why he is known as Doctor. He was ordained as a Baptist minister. People sometimes called him ‘Reverend’ which is a respectful title for a religious leader.
Dr King led a congregation in Alabama in the 1950s. He was saddened and incensed by the mistreatment of African-Americans. Almost 100 years after the abolition of the slavery African- Americans were still heavily discriminated against. Anti-black attitudes were widespread among whites. In the southern states there were Jim Crow laws. These banned black people from certain jobs. Inter racial marriage was forbidden. The two races had to be separate in public facilities. African-Americans in the southern states found it almost impossible to vote. The constitution prohibited states from preventing people voting on the grounds of colour. White officials would find excuses to prevent the African-American populace from voting. African-Americans who tried to exercise their democratic rights were terrorised by the Ku Klux Klan. The authorities would invent grandfather clauses. In order to be allowed to vote one had to be able to prove that one’s grandfather has exercised this right. This was usually impossible for African Americans. This clause was seldom enforced against whites. Sometimes there was a poll tax – only people earning above a certain amount and eligible for this tax were suffered to vote. There was another strategy used to deprive black people of their democratic entitlements. States would invent a literacy test and only those with a sufficiently high level of literacy or constitutional knowledge would be allowed to cast a vote. In practice this was only enforced against those of African stock. Many whites would have failed this test particularly the racialists.
Dr King has an incredibly melodic and mighty speaking voice. There was a compelling rising and falling cadence to his orations. He managed to energise and inspire his audiences. His mesmeric voice became recognised by millions in the United States and abroad.
Dr King led protests to de-segregate public transport and schools. The police would often arrest Dr King and his followers. He spent brief periods in prison. Dr King preached against using violence. Dr King received hate mail. His property was vandalised. Racists verbally abused him on the street. In the middle of the night he received menacing phone calls. In those days there was no caller ID. White supremacists sent him death threats but he did not back down.
In the northern states many whites became increasingly sympathetic to the plight of blacks in the South. The KKK’s murders were exposed. The Ku Klux Klan set off a bomb in Dr King’s church and murdered four little children. The murder of these girls was widely publicised. It was a barbarous act that
Some Southern white politicians signed a document called the Southern Manifesto. It said that no change should be made in race relations. All but three Southern Congressmen signed. One of those who refused to sign was Lyndon Baines Johnson who was a Texas Congressman.
The US Presidents after the war all gradually ended racial discrimination. Dr King pressed them to do more and do it faster. Lyndon Baines Johnson became president in 1963. He has the Voting Rights Act passed. President Johnson wanted King to speak out in favour of military action in Vietnam. Dr King refused to do so. He said fighting in Vietnam was neither necessary or moral.
In 1968 Dr King went to help at a demonstration by poor workers who were seeking higher wages. Dr King was shot dead. Riots erupted across the United States. A white supremacist named James Earl Ray convicted of Dr King’s murder.
James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to murder in a plea bargain. This way he avoided death by electric chair. He later retracted his confession. He claimed he was innocent and only said he was guilty because he was terrified of being electrocuted. His conviction was never overturned. Ray wrote to Dexter King, the son of Martin Luther King. Dexter visited Ray in prison and became convinced that this man was innocent. Nevertheless Ray remained in prison until the day he died in 1998.
1. When was Dr King born?
2. WHat was his first name?
3. In which country was he born?
4. Why was he known as doctor?
5. What was his job?
6. What was the situation of African Americans in the 1950s?
7. What did people do to Dr King to try to stop him leading the Civil Rights Movement?
8. What did President Johnson do?
9. How did Dr King die?
10. What is your opinion of him? (6)