By: Jasmine Wolfe
Martin Luther King Jr. attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he was said to be a precocious student. He skipped both the ninth and eleventh grade, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15, in 1944. In 1948, King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College and attended the liberal Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He thrived in all his studies, and was valedictorian of his class in 1951, and was elected student body president. He also earned a fellowship for graduate study. In 1954, while still working on his dissertation, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He completed his Ph.D. and earned his degree in 1955. King was only 25 years old when he achieved this success.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist who had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Through his activism and inspirational speeches, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African American citizens in the United States, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. He continues to be remembered as one of the most influential and inspirational African American leaders in history.
“The March on Washington” culminated in King’s most famous address, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States. He shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Sadly, on the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. He was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, where King had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike. In the wake of his death, a wave of riots swept major cities across the country, while President Johnson declared a national day of mourning.
James Earl Ray, an escaped convict and known racist, pleaded guilty to the murder, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He later recanted his confession and gained some unlikely advocates, including members of the King Family, before his death in 1998. After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress and Coretta Scott King, among others, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 creating a U.S. Federal holiday in honor of King. Observed on the third Monday of January, Martin Luther King Day was first celebrated in 1986.
Two teachers were asked, If MLK was alive today, what would he think about our progress with equality? Mr. Veronesi said “I think MLK would be happy about all the progress that has been made in civil rights. He would certainly find ways in which equality could be further increased. But I also feel he would be disappointed with the current state of our discourse, which focuses on division and strife. MLK was a uniter. He pursued change through love and compassion, not venom and vitriol. Our politicians, media, and other leaders could learn much from him.” Mr. Haponski said, “I think he would be satisfied with the progress that has been made, but I think that he would still be advocating and fighting for equality of all persons.” When this day comes up students should be reminded of a dark past, and the need for equality and human rights for all people.