Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King’s father was born “Michael King”, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was initially named “Michael King, Jr.”, until 1935, when “his father changed both of their names to Martin to honor the German Protestant (Martin Luther).” He had an older sister, Willie Christine (September 11, 1927) and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel (July 30, 1930 – July 1, 1969). King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind. He entered Morehouse College at age fifteen, skipping his ninth and twelfth high school grades without formally graduating. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree in 1951. In September 1951, King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) on June 5, 1955. In 1953, at age 24, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Civil rights activism, 1953–1968
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
At 11 am December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to comply with the Jim Crow laws that required her to give up her seat to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, urged and planned by E. D. Nixon (head of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and led by King, soon followed. (In March 1955, a 15-year-old school girl, Claudette Colvin, had to give up her seat, but King did not then become involved.) The boycott lasted for 385 days, the situation becoming so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization. In 1958, while signing copies of his book “Strive Toward Freedom” in a Harlem department store, he was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener by a deranged black woman, Izola Curry, and narrowly escaped death.
King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience as described in Henry David Thoreau‘s essay of the same name, and used successfully in India by Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi. King applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. In 1959, he wrote The Measure of A Man, from which the piece What is Man?, an attempt to sketch the optimal political, social, and economic structure of society, is derived.
The FBI, under written directive from then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began wiretapping King in 1961. J.Edgar Hoover feared that Communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over six years in attempts to force King out of the preeminent leadership position.
King correctly recognized that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that made the Civil Rights Movement the single most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.
King organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
King and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out. There were often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent. King and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful Albany Movement in Albany, Georgia, in 1961 and 1962, where divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts; in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963; and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. King and the SCLC joined forces with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for several months.
March on Washington, 1963
King, representing SCLC, was among the leaders of the so-called “Big Six” civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were: Roy Wilkins, NAACP; Whitney Young, Jr., Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The primary logistical and strategic organizer was King’s colleague Bayard Rustin. For King, this role was another which courted controversy, since he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation, but the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.
The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the South and a very public opportunity to place organizers’ concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation’s capital. Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the South. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone.
As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the “Farce on Washington,” and members of the Nation of Islam who attended the march faced a temporary suspension.
The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for the District of Columbia, then governed by congressional committee.
Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington’s history. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address and Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s Infamy Speech, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
Throughout his career of service, King wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his experience as a preacher. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail“, written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.
“Bloody Sunday”, 1965
King and SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, attempted to organize a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, for March 7, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7 was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has since become known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King’s nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he attempted to delay the march until March 8, but the march was carried out against his wishes and without his presence by local civil rights workers. Footage of the police brutality against the protesters was broadcast extensively and aroused national public outrage.
King next attempted to organize a march for March 9. The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in federal court against the State of Alabama; this was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a hearing. King lead the marchers on the 9th to the Edmund Pettus bridge, then held a short prayer session before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse, so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of a second attempt of the march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, and it was during this march that Willie Ricks coined the phrase “Black Power” (widely credited to Stokely Carmichael). On the steps of the state capitol building, King delivered a speech that has become known as “How Long, Not Long.”
In 1966, after several successes in the South, King and other people in the civil rights organizations tried to spread the movement to the North, with Chicago as its first destination. King and Ralph Abernathy, both middle class folk, moved into Chicago’s slums as an educational experience and to demonstrate their support and empathy for the poor.
The SCLC formed a coalition with CCCO, Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, an organization founded by Albert Raby, Jr., and the combined organizations’ efforts were fostered under the aegis of The Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM). During that spring several dual white couple/black couple tests on real estate offices uncovered the practice, now banned by the Real Estate Industry, of “steering”; these tests revealed the racially selective processing of housing requests by couples who were exact matches in income, background, number of children, and other attributes, with the only difference being their race.
The needs of the movement for radical change grew, and several larger marches were planned and executed, including those in the following neighborhoods: Bogan, Belmont-Cragin, Jefferson Park, Evergreen Park (a suburb southwest of Chicago), Gage Park and Marquette Park, among others.
In Chicago, Abernathy later wrote that they received a worse reception than they had in the South. Their marches were met by thrown bottles and screaming throngs, and they were truly afraid of starting a riot. King’s beliefs mitigated against his staging a violent event; if King had intimations that a peaceful march would be put down with violence he would call it off for the safety of others. Nonetheless, he led these marches in the face of death threats to his person. And in Chicago the violence was so formidable it shook the two friends.
When King and his allies returned to the south, they left Jesse Jackson, a seminary student who had previously joined the movement in the South, in charge of their organization. Jackson displayed oratorical skill and organized the first successful boycotts against chain stores. One such campaign targeted A&P Stores which refused to hire blacks as clerks; the campaign was so effective that it laid the groundwork for the equal opportunity programs begun in the 1970s.
Opposition to the Vietnam War, 1967
Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States’ role in the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967 appearance at the New York City Riverside Church — exactly one year before his death — King delivered Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. In the speech he spoke strongly against the U.S.’s role in the war, insisting that the U.S. was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and calling the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” But he also argued that the country needed larger and broader moral changes:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” 
King was long hated by many white southern segregationists, but this speech turned the more mainstream media against him. Time called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi“, and The Washington Post declared that King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
With regard to Vietnam, King often claimed that North Vietnam “did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had arrived in the tens of thousands.” King also praised North Vietnam’s land reform. He accused the United States of having killed a million Vietnamese, “mostly children.”
The speech was a reflection of King’s evolving political advocacy in his later years, sparked in part by his affiliation with and training at the progressive Highlander Research and Education Center. King began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation. Toward the end of his life, King more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. Though his public language was guarded, so as to avoid being linked to communism by his political enemies, in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism:
|“||You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… with capitalism… There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.||”|
King had read Marx while at Morehouse, but while he rejected “traditional capitalism,” he also rejected Communism because of its “materialistic interpretation of history” that denied religion, its “ethical relativism,” and its “political totalitarianism.”
King also stated in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.
Poor People’s Campaign, 1968
In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice. However, according to the article “Coalition Building and Mobilization Against Poverty”, King and SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign was not supported by the other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Bayard Rustin. Their opposition incorporated arguments that the goals of Poor People Campaign were too broad, the demands unrealizable, and thought these campaigns would accelerate the backlash and repression on the poor and the black.
The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”
King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” — appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.” His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of racism, poverty, militarism and materialism, and that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
On March 30, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. (For example, African American workers, unlike white workers, were not paid when sent home because of inclement weather.)
On April 3, King returned to Memphis and addressed a rally, delivering his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” address at Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ, Inc. – World Headquarters). King’s flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. In the close of the last speech of his career, in reference to the bomb threat, King said the following:
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, owned by Walter Bailey, in Memphis. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, King’s close friend and colleague who was present at the assassination, swore under oath to the HSCA that King and his entourage stayed at room 306 at the Lorraine Motel so often it was known as the ‘King-Abernathy suite.’ While King was standing on the motel’s 2nd floor balcony, James Earl Ray (is believed to have) shot him at 6:01 p.m. April 4, 1968. The bullet entered through his right cheek smashing his jaw and then traveling down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. According to biographer Taylor Branch, and also Jesse Jackson, who was present, King’s last words on the balcony were to musician Ben Branch (no relation to Taylor Branch) who was scheduled to perform that night at an event King was attending: “Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Abernathy was inside the motel room heard the shot and ran to the balcony to find King on the floor. Local Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, whose house King was on his way to visit, remembers that upon seeing King go down he ran into a hotel room to call an ambulance. Nobody was on the switchboard, so Kyles ran back out and yelled to the police to get one on their radios. It was later revealed that the hotel switchboard operator, upon seeing King shot, had had a fatal heart attack and could not operate the phones. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05 p.m. The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 100 cities.
Five days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral that same day. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey attended on behalf of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was holding a meeting on the Vietnam War at Camp David. (There were fears that Johnson’s presence might incite protests and perhaps violence.) At his widow’s request, King’s last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at the funeral. It was a recording of his famous ‘Drum Major’ sermon, given on February 4, 1968. In that sermon King made a request that at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors be made, but that it be said that he tried to “feed the hungry”, “clothe the naked”, “be right on the [Vietnam] war question”, and “love and serve humanity”. Per King’s request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral.
According to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s autopsy revealed that though he was only 39 years old, he had the heart of a 60-year-old man, evidencing the stress of 13 years in the civil rights movement.
Two months after King’s death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King’s murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, though he recanted this confession three days later. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty. Ray was sentenced to a 99-year prison term.
Ray fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him “Percy Fourflusher”). He claimed that a man he met in Montreal, Canada with the alias “Raoul” was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not he himself. Further, Ray asserted that although he did not “personally shoot King,” he may have been “partially responsible without knowing it,” hinting at a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.
On June 10, 1977, shortly after Ray had testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he did not shoot King, he and six other convicts escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. They were recaptured on June 13 and returned to prison.
Allegations of conspiracy
Some have speculated that Ray had been used as a “patsy” similar to the way that alleged John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to have been. Some of the claims used to support this assertion are:
- Ray’s confession was given under pressure, and he had been threatened with death penalty
- Ray was a thief and burglar and had no record of committing violent crimes with a weapon.
Many suspecting a conspiracy in the assassination point out the two separate ballistic tests conducted on the Remington Gamemaster had neither conclusively proved Ray had been the killer nor that it had even been the murder weapon. Moreover, witnesses surrounding King at the moment of his death say the shot came from another location, from behind thick shrubbery near the rooming house (which had been inexplicably cut away in the days following the assassination), and not from the rooming house window.
In 1999, Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, along with the rest of King’s family, won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers and “other unknown co-conspirators”. Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King’s assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found Jowers guilty and that “governmental agencies were parties” to the assassination plot. William F. Pepper represented the King family in the trial.
King biographer David Garrow disagrees with William F. Pepper‘s claims that the government killed King. He is supported by author Gerald Posner who researched and wrote deeply about the assassination.
In 2000, the Department of Justice completed the investigation about Jowers’ claims but did not find evidence to support allegations about conspiracy. The investigation report recommended no further investigation unless some new reliable facts are presented.
On April 6, 2002, the New York Times reported a church minister, Rev. Ronald Denton Wilson, claimed his father, Henry Clay Wilson — not James Earl Ray — assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He stated, “It wasn’t a racist thing; he thought Martin Luther King was connected with communism, and he wanted to get him out of the way.”
In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:
The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.
Civil rights leader, theologian, and educator Howard Thurman was an early influence on King. A classmate of King’s father at Morehouse College, Thurman mentored the young King and his friends. Thurman’s missionary work had taken him abroad where he had met and conferred with Mahatma Gandhi. When he was a student at Boston University, King often visited Thurman who was dean of Marsh Chapel there.
African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who had studied under Gandhi, counseled King to dedicate himself to the principles of non-violence in 1956, served as King’s main adviser and mentor throughout his early activism, and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. However, Rustin’s open homosexuality, support of democratic socialism, and ties to the Communist Party USA caused many white and African-American leaders to demand that King distance himself from Rustin.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s success with non-violent activism, King visited the Gandhi family in India in 1959, with assistance from the Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the NAACP. The trip to India affected King in a profound way, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America’s struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”
Stance on compensation
On several occasions Martin Luther King Jr. expressed a view that black Americans, as well as other disadvantaged Americans, should be compensated for historical wrongs. Speaking to Alex Haley in 1965, he said that granting black Americans only equality could not realistically close the economic gap between them and whites. King said that he did not seek a full restitution of wages lost to slavery, which he believed impossible, but proposed a government compensatory program of US$50 billion over ten years to all disadvantaged groups. He posited that “the money spent would be more than amply justified by the benefits that would accrue to the nation through a spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils.” His 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait elaborated this idea further, presenting it as an application of the common law regarding settlement of unpaid labor.
King and the FBI
King had a mutually antagonistic relationship with the FBI, especially its director, J. Edgar Hoover. Under written directives from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (at Hoover’s initiation), the FBI began tracking King and the SCLC in 1961. Its investigations were largely superficial until 1962, when it learned that one of King’s most trusted advisers was New York City lawyer Stanley Levison. The FBI found that Levison had been involved with the Communist Party USA. Another key King lieutenant, Hunter Pitts O’Dell, was also linked to the Communist Party by sworn testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The Bureau placed wiretaps on Levison’s and King’s home and office phones, and bugged King’s rooms in hotels as he traveled across the country. The Bureau also informed Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, both of whom unsuccessfully tried to persuade King to dissociate himself from Levison. For his part, King adamantly denied having any connections to Communism, stating in a 1965 Playboy interview that “there are as many Communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida“; to which Hoover responded by calling King “the most notorious liar in the country.”
The attempt to prove that King was a Communist was in keeping with the feeling of many segregationists that blacks in the South were happy with their lot but had been stirred up by “communists” and “outside agitators.” Lawyer-advisor Stanley D. Levison did have ties with the Communist Party in various business dealings, but the FBI refused to believe its own intelligence bureau reports that Levison was no longer associated in that capacity. Movement leaders countered that voter disenfranchisement, lack of education and employment opportunities, discrimination and vigilante violence were the reasons for the strength of the Civil Rights Movement, and that blacks had the intelligence and motivation to organize on their own.
Later, the focus of the Bureau’s investigations shifted to attempting to discredit King through revelations regarding his private life. FBI surveillance of King, some of it since made public, attempted to demonstrate that he also engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. However, much of what was recorded was, as quoted by his attorney, speech-writer and close friend Clarence B. Jones, “midnight” talk or just two close friends joking around about women. Further remarks on King’s lifestyle were made by several prominent officials, such as President Johnson who notoriously said that King was a “hypocrite preacher”.
In 1989, Ralph Abernathy, a close associate of King’s in the civil right movement, stated in his book about the movement that King was a womanizer. The book was titled And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, and was published by Harper & Row. The book was reviewed in The New York Times on October 29, 1989. Allegations of King’s sexual conduct were discussed in that review, where Abernathy said that he only wrote the term womanizing, and did not specifically say King had extramarital sex. Also, evidence indicating that King possibly engaged in sexual affairs is detailed by history professor David Garrow in his book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, published in 1986 by William Morrow & Company. It was not proven whether he agreed to have sex with a woman the night before his assassination.
The FBI distributed reports regarding such affairs to the executive branch, friendly reporters, potential coalition partners and funding sources of the SCLC, and King’s family. The Bureau also sent anonymous letters to King threatening to reveal information if he did not cease his civil rights work. One anonymous letter sent to King just before he received the Nobel Peace Prize read, in part, “…The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there, is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” This statement is often interpreted as inviting King’s suicide, though William Sullivan argued that it may have only been intended to “convince King to resign from the SCLC.”
In January 31, 1977, in the cases of Bernard S. Lee v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. and Southern Christian Leadership Conference v. Clarence M. Kelley, et al. United States District Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr., ordered all known copies of the recorded audiotapes and written transcripts resulting from the FBI’s electronic surveillance of King between 1963 and 1968 to be held in the National Archives and sealed from public access until 2027.
Across from the Lorraine Motel, next to the rooming house in which James Earl Ray was staying, was a vacant fire station. The FBI was assigned to observe King during the appearance he was planning to make on the Lorraine Motel second-floor balcony later that day, and utilized the fire station as a makeshift base. Using papered-over windows with peepholes cut into them, the agents watched over the scene until Martin Luther King was shot. Immediately following the shooting, all six agents rushed out of the station and were the first people to administer first-aid to King. Their presence nearby has led to speculation that the FBI was involved in the assassination.
Awards and recognition
|Martin Luther King Jr.|
From the Gallery of 20th century martyrs at Westminster Abbey. From left to right – Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer
|Martyr, Prophet, Civil Rights Leader|
|Venerated in||Episcopal Church in the United States of America|
|Controversy||Racial Equality, Civil Rights|
Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 King was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his “exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty.” Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, “Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free.”
In 1965 King was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for ‘Peace on Earth.’
In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity.”
As of 2006, more than 730 cities in the United States had streets named after King. King County, Washington rededicated its name in his honor in 1986, and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007. The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the only city hall in the United States to be named in honor of King.
Provided by wikipedia.com