MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
"Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’ This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance."
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is among the most influential and successful advocates of racial equality and human rights. Reverend King was an American pastor, spokesperson, and civil rights leader.
Inspired by Jesus’s teachings, Reverend King advanced civil rights through non-violence and civil disobedience. He was arrested 29 times for peacefully protesting injustices and ultimately gave his life for the cause at age 39 when he was assassinated at a peaceful rally.
In 1955 Reverend King became a national figure when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, a 385-day campaign protesting racial segregation (known as “Jim Crow laws”) on city buses. The campaign concluded with a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision ending racial segregation on Montgomery city buses. Reverend King organized and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which mobilized black churches to conduct non-violent protests for civil rights reform. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where Reverend King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Through these efforts and many others, Reverend King shifted public opinion on racial inequality, shaping the civil rights movement into the most important political issue in early 1960s America. Most of the rights that Reverend King fought for-- desegregation, voting rights, labor rights, and other basic civil rights-- were enacted into law in America (Civil Rights Act of 1964; Voting Rights Act; Fair Housing Act).
In 1964 Reverend King won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial inequality through non-violence. At age 35, he was the youngest winner of the award. Reverend King’s legacy is remembered by an annual national holiday, and many U.S. cities have named buildings and streets after him.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
A survey of Reverend King’s sermons, speeches, and writings makes clear that he was motivated and shaped by the teachings of Jesus Christ and by the Christian Bible. In his public speeches, Reverend King almost always quoted Jesus and His “extremist” love as the basis for his actions. Reverend King often cited Jesus’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus’s teachings to “turn the other cheek” and “put away the sword” in promoting non-violent responses to oppression.
In one of his sermons, Reverend King said this about his mission in life:
“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don't plan to run for any political office. I don't plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I'm doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”
When asked how he wished to be remembered after his death, Reverend King quoted one of Jesus’s instructions in the Bible, saying, “I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”