An Ode to Martin Luther King Jr.

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read the story on
In honor of the National holiday, I wanted to highlight the life and times of the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It has been a while since I featured one of my style icons, but with the current events in America, the recent release of the movie Selma, and the fact that most young people possess little to no knowledge about the legacy of Dr. King, I felt that it was only right to discuss one of America’s most prolific leaders, speakers, and heroes of social justice. 
Family Ties

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Martin Luther Kings Read the story on
Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the second child of Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. His father was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and his mother was a school teacher. Michael King Sr. adopted the name, Martin Luther, in honor of the German Protestant religious leader. Eventually, Michael Jr. would also adopt the name himself. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all ministers as well. In fact, both his father and grandfather were pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. However, Dr. King did not always intend on following in the footsteps of his fathers. He actually had aspirations of becoming a lawyer or a doctor. 


An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended all segregated public schools including Booker T. Washington High School. He was often described as being a “precocious” student and as a result he skipped the 9th and 11th grade. In fact, he was generally uninterested in joining his father’s ministry, until he took a Bible class, renewed his faith and began to envision a career in the ministry. At the young age of 15, Dr. King enrolled at Morehouse College and studied Sociology. Then he went onto study Systematic Theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He was later named the class Valedictorian and was elected student body president of his predominantly white senior class. 

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read his story on
Dr. King then went onto pursue a Ph. D from Boston University’s School of Theology. It was around this time that he met Coretta Scott. At the time, Coretta was an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory school in Boston. After courting her for a year, they got married in June 1953 and had four children, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, Bernice Albertine King, and Yolanda Denise King. In 1954, while still working on his dissertation at Crozer, Dr. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He later earned his Ph.D. in 1955 and the tender age of 25 years old.

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read his story on
The Legendary Beginnings
As a result of his work within the community as a pastor and as an executive board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was elected to serve as the spokesman and protest leader for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This movement was sparked when a 42 year-old Rosa Parks got arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white patron. The bus boycott consisted of blacks walking to work, dealing with harassment, violence and intimidation. Even Dr. King’s home was firebombed while his wife and children were home. However, after 382 days the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional. Encouraged by the boycott’s success, Dr. King along with Ralph Abernathy, and 60 other civil rights activists and ministers, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The mission of the group was to achieve equality for African Americans through nonviolence. Their motto was, “not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed.” 

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Southern Christian Leadership Conference
The organization felt that their first objective should focus on enfranchising African Americans in the voting process. By 1958, the SCLC sponsored more than 20 mass meetings in key southern cities to register black voters. During this time, Dr. King met with several religious and civil rights leaders and delivered speeches all over the country on race-related issues. In 1959, during a month long trip to India, Dr. King visited the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King was affected deeply by that trip and later described Gandhi as being the “guiding light” for his non-violent activism.
An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. MLK & Mahatma Gandhi
Back to Atlanta
By 1960, Dr. King gained national notoriety and moved his family to Atlanta, so he could join his father as the co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. However, even with this new position, he and the SCLC continued on with their civil rights efforts. On October 19, 1960, King and a large group of students entered a local restaurant and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and several others were arrested. However, the charges were eventually dropped after the Mayor of Atlanta negotiated a deal. Unfortunately, King was imprisoned again for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign, and John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King’s harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and King was soon released. This was only a couple examples of the more than 30 arrests that Dr. King sustained between 1955 and 1965.

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read the story on
This now leads me into one of the the main reasons why I was so inspired to feature Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one my style icons. Dr. King was arrested more than 30 times, physically attacked on numerous occasions, lived every day under the threat of death, his home was bombed, and he even received harsh criticism by his peers and fellow blacks. And even though he sometimes got discouraged as he so famously said in his speech, “A Knock at Midnight”, he continued to fight for justice until his untimely death, because he knew his action were for the greater good, and his faith in God gave him the courage to persevere. In fact, he said one of his greatest victories was being able to help restore the psyche and dignity of the negro.

 An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. MLK on The Merv Griffin Show Read the story on
During an interview with Merv Griffin on his eponymous television talk show, Dr. King said, “the civil rights movement has given the Negro a new sense of dignity, a new sense of somebodyness, and this may be the greatest victory that we have won…I think the greatest thing that has taken place is the internal change in the psyche of the Negro, the Negro has a sense of pride now that he has desperately needed all along, and he is able to stand up and feel that he his a man…The Negro has straightened up his back so to speak, and you can’t ride a man’s back unless its bent.”

March on Washington

In 1963, Dr. King organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Unfortunately, the city police turned dogs and fire hoses on the demonstrators, some of which consisted of women and children. Dr. King was jailed along with dozens of his supporters. The event drew nationwide attention. As a result, Dr. King received harsh criticism by clergy members for endangering the lives of those who attended the demonstration. While in jail in Birmingham, Dr. King eloquently discussed his theory of non-violence, in which he said, “nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.”

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read his story on

Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices that African Americans faced across the country. The march featured King’s most famous address, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a spirited and eloquent call for peace, equality, and justice. The demonstration also featured performances by Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Marian Anderson just to name a few. The event hosted over 250,000 participants and it is widely regarded as one of the most monumental demonstrations of the American civil rights movement.

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read his story on

Even people from cities that were not experiencing similar racial tension came from far and wide to join in the protest. They began to question the nation’s Jim Crow laws along with the treatment of African-American citizens. This ultimately resulted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, authorizing the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities. That year, Dr. King was named Man of the Year by Time magazine and he also became the youngest person to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Read the story on

In 1965, Dr. King’s elevated profile drew international attention to the violence that took place in Selma, Alabama. The SCLC and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had organized a voter registration campaign. The brutal scene was nationally televised and it outraged many Americans. It also inspired supporters from across the country to gather in Selma and take part in a march to Montgomery, That day was later referred to as “Bloody Sunday”. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote to all African Americans. 

“I Feel Discouraged”

By 1968, after more than a decade of demonstrations and protests, Dr. King was beginning to feel discouraged. He grew tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was especially discouraged at the slow progress of civil rights movement in America and the increasing criticism from other African-American leaders, such as Stokely Carmichael and Bobby Seale. Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive the movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues, such as poverty and the slum living conditions. However, in 1968, a labor strike by Memphis sanitation workers called upon Dr. King to deliver, what would be his final speech. On April 3rd, in what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, he told the demonstrators, “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.” 

An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read the story on

The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his of his room at the Lorraine Motel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray. He was only 39 years old. The killing sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He later died in prison. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, creating a federal holiday to honor the legacy of Dr. King, on every third Monday in January. However, that too was a battle with congress. It voted down five times and it was not passed by congress until the petition garnered over six million signatures. It was later declared as “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history”.

The Legacy
An Ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read the story on
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation with his eloquence, his fearlessness, and determination, especially after winning every battle with non-violence. He along with the other members of the SCLC showed through their courage and proved that they were willing to give their own life to the cause of freedom. Dr. King often said, “The essence of the civil rights movement was not one man’s actions but collective action, the work and sacrifice of many.”

In closing, I know that if it were not for the support of his wife and fellow SCLC members, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin, James Bevel, James Orange, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, just to name a few. Dr. King would not have been able to lead an entire nation. 

As always thanks for reading and Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
Yours Truly,
Akil McLeod
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